The beautiful Hawaiian beaches include some of the best sand in the world: soft, comfortable, with some variation in size and color of the pebbles, not rocky. Photographs show the sky reflected in the receding waves on a palate of smooth sand. However, one thing I have not found in strolls along several beaches is sea shells.

I hadn’t really been looking for sea shells, but several recent visitors wanted to take some home as souvenirs. There were no lines of shells along the high water mark of the surf or partially buried in the sand, as we had seen on mainland beaches. I had previously collected a few small pieces of coral that look like small round white stones, but the only two sea shells we have are ones Rick found while snorkeling.

I’m not an expert in this area, but I’ve found out two things. First, it appears that most sea shells in Hawaii are found in the water, while snorkeling or swimming, especially near reefs or rock ledges. People don’t find them just by walking along the beach. Second, some people think it is illegal to remove rocks or sea shells from the shore in Hawaii. According to the Division of Land and Natural Resources, taking small amounts of sand, dead coral, rocks or other marine deposits for personal, noncommercial use is allowed.

However, Hawaii plays host to over seven MILLION visitors per year. If each of them takes back a piece of the islands, it causes terrible damage to the ecosystem. Further, in the view of the Hawaiian culture, everything in the islands is related: people, plants, animals and rocks. Removing parts of the island is an insult and highly discouraged.

It seems that a far better practice is to take photographs of the natural beauty in Hawaii and leave it as untouched as possible for the next person, or for your next visit. If you must have sea shells, buy some replicas at local shops and congratulate yourself for being a courteous visitor to the islands.


  1. LOL @Paul…..I remember that episode!!!  I do recall when I was much younger growing up on Maui the shells were a lot more plentiful.  Now it seems the only ones I see are the little round not quite puka shells.

  2. I noticed that too, the lack of shells, as compared to the east coast in NC.  Actually there we look for and collect sharks teeth.  I've never found one here.  I don't mind no shells here… I'm so happy to be in clear turquoise water.

  3. It seems the shells you do find are often just small pieces of a shell, perhaps they break when they go through the reef offshore.  I love beachcombing – but not for shells – for sea glass which is not part of the natural ecosystem.  Over the years this glass washes up on shore has been smoothed into beautiful "sea glass" in many different colors.

  4. Honestly, I was so taken with the wonderful sand on the beaches in Hawaii that I didn't notice the absence of shells until a guest mentioned it 🙂  We found a bag of imitation shells at Hilo Hattie's but no "real" ones.

  5. There are many beautiful shells that the Goddess Pele’ will gift you with! The Lava is what is most sacred and that is Kapu to take, if it’s part of the Island it belongs to Pele’, if it comes from the sea and you find it you may have it. You CAN find seashells right on the sands of Waikiki. Most of the shells have a very tiny hole in them because another sea creature has drilled into it and eaten the small snail inside making it useless for a home for another snail. I’ve lived in Oahu and have a small bottle of shells that I carry with me wherever I go. Each morning I went “picking” I paid respect to the Goddess and she showed me many to take. The locals all pick the same way and the best shell spots are kept secret from the tourists. The shells found by locals are made into the most beautiful leis and sold. If you have the right respect the Madam Pele’ will show you the shells, I found a perfect Marlin Auger right next to a lady’s toe, she asked me what I was doing and said she has never seen a shells in all the years she’s been visiting. I told her she wasn’t looking hard enough as I put in my bottle. Just keeps your eyes open. Aloha

  6. Thanks for the info.  I collected an empty uni shell the other day outside of Ko'olina and have been wondering if it were bad luck to collect it or not.  I felt it would be okay, and as an offering back to the islands, I removed a lot of fishing line from the reef that I found, as well as a bunch of lead sinkers.  I do make a habit of removing any man made junk that I find during any visit, including glass bottles and plastic garbage from other spots.  The fishermen at Haleiwa were appreciative of all of the free sinkers we brought out one day.
    Headed home tomorrow…  I'm so going to miss Hawaii until the next time.  🙂

  7. taking a piece of lava home is not recommended because its said to be bad luck, but i’ve never heard of it to be illegal to take shells. I grew up on oahu and have always collected beach glass and shells (which there are plenty of if you know where to look. different beaches have different things to offer. various north shore beaches, sandys, i have such a collection of shells i dont even know what to do with them). I am a local artist and i make jewelry with my findings and i have never heard about tourists not being able to take shells from here home. i’ve sold plenty of beach jewelry to tourists and there are many other artist that sell their work to consignment shops where tourists buy their work.

  8. I see sea shells on coral sand shores of Maui all the time, but they are awfully small and mixed in with other bits:

    You’ve really got to “get your eyes on” as the mushroom hunters say.

    We tend to leave them on the beach but we have mailed a few to friends with the stipulation that they must return them ASAP to native habitat–just one way of trying to get them to visit us here. (You wouldn’t think that would be that hard, right?)

  9. Aloha!
    We’re leaving soon for three weeks on Kauai and are planning to take our grandkids on a sea shell hunt when they come over with the rest of the family for Thanksgiving. Having been there several times before, we know that shells are few and far between, so we’re going to purchase a bag of shells from Hilo Hattie’s and already have a rocky beach area picked out where we’re going to go down and “salt” the beach with these nice big non-native shells in the morning before we take the kids out. They won’t know the difference, they’ll just have a great time finding the shells in the sand and we’ll get the joy of watching them on their treasure hunt! And if some other kids happen along and find some shells too, so much the better! For us, this seems like a good solution!

  10. I have heard that the so called curse attached to taking lave rocks and other matter from the islands is not really a curse at all. Groups of tour guides got tired of cleaning up the rocks from their vehicles that they came up with a ‘curse’ to discourage tourists from collecting and forgetting the material on the floors!

  11. Most of Hawaii’s marine shells, at least the larger and more attractive ones live in water depths of about 60 feet and deeper unlike elsewhere in the tropical Pacific Basin. This being said, most of the species found in Hawaii are quite widespread in the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans with the lion’s share coming from the Philippines, and most of these are readily available in shell and souvenir shops – I suppose one could do some homework to find the ones they want in a book that occur in both Hawaii and elsewhere and buy them in said stores and just say to people that they came from the islands – just a little white lie that no one would be the wiser for…

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