UNITED STATES- When it comes to souvenirs, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers are very strict. There is no question the Caribbean is an extremely popular vacation destination. However, when the vacation ends, it isn’t always a happy ending.
Upon returning from a week-long Caribbean cruise, a couple brought back souvenirs in the form of conch shells, corals, and sea urchins, according to federal agents. Other plans were afoot at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
During their December visit to the New Orleans seaport terminal, Customs and Border Protection officers confiscated 509 “aquatic items” from the couple, a news release said on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
After the items were given to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, it took the agency until this week to identify them.
Among other violations, agents said bringing the shells and other sea creatures into the U.S. constituted illegal importation of wildlife for commercial purposes without a permit or license.
“Removing these items from the wild has a negative impact on plant and wildlife habitats and limits opportunities for others to enjoy and appreciate these species,” Special Agent in Charge Stephen Clark said.
“These types of activities go against the very conservation ethic at the heart of federal wildlife laws that serve the public interest.”
As passengers disembarked from a cruise ship returning from the Caribbean on Dec. 12, an agriculture specialist stopped to inspect the couple’s luggage as they left – including stops in Montego Bay, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.
Later, the specialist discovered seashells, coral, and other ocean-related objects in their possession.
A husband and wife U.S. citizens admitted to collecting the items during the ports of call for use in arts and crafts projects, the agency said.
Fish and Wildlife documented the items taken and their quantity. The collection included: 9 sea fans, 47 sea sponges, 5 Queen conch shells, 3 pieces of bone, 297 shells, 68 stony coral, 25 pieces of crabs, 30 sea urchins, 21 mussel shells, 4 chitons (a type of mollusk that looks flat and symmetrical)
The director of the New Orleans area port, Terri Edwards, said those items “may look nice” but are subject to strict import/export regulations in order to protect natural resources.
There was no immediate word on whether the couple would receive fines or citations.
Among the information on U.S. Fish and Wildlife website for tourists traveling to the Caribbean are warnings about items tourists should avoid buying or importing, such as products made from sea turtles or containing bird feathers. The site states that some countries limit the collection of seashells, conch shells, and corals.
It is prohibited to import conch shells from several areas of the Caribbean into the United States, for example.
These souvenirs may seem harmless to tourists, but U.S. customs officials at the border have been seizing them for years.