Tropical marine molluscs are traded globally. Larger species with slow life histories are under threat from over-exploitation. We report on the trade in protected marine mollusc shells in and from Java and Bali, Indonesia. Since 1987 twelve species of marine molluscs are protected under Indonesian law to shield them from overexploitation. Despite this protection they are traded openly in large volumes.
We collected data on species composition, origins, volumes and prices at two large open markets (2013), collected data from wholesale traders (2013), and compiled seizure data by the Indonesian authorities (2008–2013). All twelve protected species were observed in trade. Smaller species were traded for <USD1.00 whereas prices of larger species were USD15.00–40.00 with clear price-size relationships. Some shells were collected locally in Java and Bali, but the trade involves networks stretching hundreds of kilometres throughout Indonesia. Wholesale traders offer protected marine mollusc shells for the export market by the container or by the metric ton. Data from 20 confiscated shipments show an on-going trade in these molluscs. Over 42,000 shells were seized over a 5-year period, with a retail value of USD700,000 within Indonesia; horned helmet ( Cassis cornuta) (>32,000 shells valued at USD500,000), chambered nautilus ( Nautilus pompilius) (>3,000 shells, USD60,000) and giant clams ( Tridacna spp.) (>2,000 shells, USD45,000) were traded in largest volumes. Two-thirds of this trade was destined for international markets, including in the USA and Asia-Pacific region.
We demonstrated that the trade in protected marine mollusc shells in Indonesia is not controlled nor monitored, that it involves large volumes, and that networks of shell collectors, traders, middlemen and exporters span the globe. This impedes protection of these species on the ground and calls into question the effectiveness of protected species management in Indonesia; solutions are unlikely to be found only in Indonesia and must involve the cooperation of importing countries.