Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Cowry Trade

While Pau and Ed were clearing rocks from the confined area the other day they decided to collect shells for the hermit crabs in the fish tank so the crabs have a greater selection of shells to choose from. They also tried to catch fish for the fish tank . . . trying being the operative word I think they managed to catch one but it managed to escape again.

Hermit crabs are plentiful in Malta and are not protected so it’s ok for us to keep some in the tank. However there are a number of species that you commonly see while diving in Malta that are protected. The sad reality is that nobody knows they are protected because there is no information around to make people aware of this and many new divers want to take shells as souvenirs when they go diving so we always have to remind them to look but not touch.

One species that tourists commonly like to take is the Cowrie. The Cowrie is a Gastropod Mollusc that has a very beautiful shell and is often sold to tourists as jewellery although this is illegal in some places.

The shell (cowry) has had many uses throughout history. Its most significant and long-lasting use was currency. The shells of cowries (especially Monetaria moneta)

were used for centuries as a currency in Africa, Asia, Australia, Oceania and other parts of the world. It was still being used in some parts of Africa up until 1921.

The shell has also been used for other purposes which give it additional value such as, in decoration, ornamentation (Egyptian tombs), divination, and in games (i.e. the pawn in chess).

The cowries were caught in nets, dried in the sun allowing the inner flesh to rot, piled into heaps and then transported across the Ocean in the ships ballast to be traded.

The Maldives were noted as the centre of the cowry trade over a period of 4000 years, from the earliest records of Arab merchants to the accounts of adventurers and later European visitors. They were even traded in Africa for slaves during the slave trade. In 1900 30-60,000 shells would buy one male slave.

These uses have endangered many species of cowries and so they are now protected in many places. In some countries it is now illegal to even pick up certain species of living cowrie.

In Malta the following species are protected:


Erosaria spurca

English Common Name: Spotted Cowrie/Porcelaine Juane

Maltese Common Name: Ba`bu`a Ttigrata

Luria lurida

English Common Name: Brown Cowrie/Mediterranean Cowrie

Maltese Common Name: Bahbuha tal-Ghajnejn

Schilderia achatidea

English Common Name: Agate Cowrie

Maltese Common Name: Bahbuha

Zonaria pyrum

English Common Name: Pear Cowrie

If you want to find out some of the other species of marine fauna that are protected see the link below:


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