Couple collected shells for art projects on Caribbean cruise. Customs took all 509

·2 min read
U.S. Customs and Border Protection

A husband and wife returning from a week-long cruise in the Caribbean thought they’d bring back souvenirs in the form of conch shells, corals and sea urchins, according to federal agents.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection had other plans.

The couple’s extensive collection of 509 “aquatic items” was confiscated by agents in New Orleans, Louisiana, after their cruise ship docked at the seaport terminal in December, Customs and Border Protection said in a news release on Tuesday, Jan. 25. The items were then turned over to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, which didn’t finish identifying them until last week.

Agents said bringing the shells and other sea creatures into the U.S. constituted unlawful import of a commercial shipment of wildlife without a license or permit, among other import violations.

“Removing these items from the wild has a negative impact on plant and wildlife habitats and affects opportunities for others to appreciate and enjoy these species,” Special Agent in Charge Stephen Clark said in the release. “These types of activities go against the very conservation ethic at the heart of federal wildlife laws that serve the public interest.”

An agriculture specialist was watching passengers disembark from a cruise ship on Dec. 12 that just returned from seven days in the Caribbean — including stops in Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel — when the couple was flagged for a secondary inspection of their baggage, according to the release.

The specialist subsequently discovered a stash of seashells, coral and other items from the ocean in their possession.

“The U.S. citizen passengers, a husband and wife, admitted to collecting the items during the ports of call for use in art projects,” the agency said.

Fish and Wildlife documented the category of items they took and how many there were. They included:

Nine sea fans

47 sea sponges

Five Queen conch shells

Three pieces of bone

297 shells

68 stony coral

25 pieces of crabs

30 sea urchins

21 mussel shells

Four chiton (a type of mollusk that looks flat and symmetrical)

Terri Edwards, director of the New Orleans area port, said those items “may look nice” but are under strict import/export regulations to protect natural resources.

Because it was a first-time violation, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection said, the couple was let off with a warning. They faced up to $10,000 in civil penalties if they had been cited.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife maintains a website for traveling to the Caribbean that includes information about items tourists should avoid buying or attempting to import, such as products made from sea turtles or containing bird feathers. Some countries limit the collection of seashells, conch shells and coral, according to the site.

Queen conch shells from several areas of the Caribbean, for example, can’t be imported to the U.S.

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