This web page shows images of shells collected from Breezy Point Beach (Queens, New York) and Sandy Hook (Monmouth County, New Jersey). This image library is a companion to the seashore creatures web page.

Although many species represented are common, they may not be "equally distributed" in space and time. For instance, certain shells may be plentiful on the beach after strong storms import material from far off shore. Some species are found only after a mating-, or a seasonal life- cycle. Each organism has a limited habitat, tolerating a variable range of environmental conditions. Limiting ecological factors include:

Each species has a certain range of tolerance for each of the ecological factors listed above. Animal life cycles are very complex. At different stages in an organism's growth the tolerance ranges can change significantly. Seasonal climate variations cause drastic changes in marine habitats. For instance, in the winter wave energy increases, light decreases, oxygen availibilty increases, and food supply generally diminshes.

Different habitats tend to support different species. For instance, the high energy evironment of the surf zone and offshore bars supports a completely different fauna that back barrier bays, tidal flats, and channels. Some species, however can occupy a variety of environments but their abundance will vary from place to place.

Surf Clam: Spisula solidissima. By far the most abundant shell on area beaches.

Northern Quahog: Mercenaria mercenaria Also called "cherrystone" and "littleneck clams" on restaurant menus.

Atlantic Jackknife Clam: Ensis directus.

Blue Mussel: Mytilus edulis.

Atlantic Ribbed Mussel: Geukensia demissa.

Altlantic Cockle Shell: Americardia media.

Atlantic Bay Scallop: Argopecten irradians (Lamarck).

Atlantic Slipper Shell: Crepedula fornicata.

Easter Oyster: Crassostrea virginica.

Common Jingle Shell: Anomia simplex.

Common Northern Moon Shell: Lunatia heros.

Knobbed Whelk: Busycon carica.

Channeled Whelk: Busycon canaliculatum.

Cone Shell: Conus daucus. (A rare specimen from Bight waters. Its normal habitat is in Caribbean waters; this specimen may actually be prehistoric.)

Pollution in the New York Bight is an extremely significant problem. During the early 1980s much of the New York Bight was practically sterile due to oxygen depletion. Nutrients from sewage and industrial wastes cause algal and bacterial "blooms." Upon dying these microbiotic organisms sink and decay causing bottom waters to become anoxic.

Toxins accumulate in tissue and become concentrated as creatures are eaten. Each species has its own tolerance to environmental toxins. Some shellfish can harbor toxin levels high enough to cause serious illness in the humans who comsume them (or worse!). The good news is that great progress has been made to clean up area waters. It should be heavily emphasized that the economic costs of cleaning up environmental hazards far outweigh the short-term economic benefits to individuals profitting from unrestricted release of polluting materials. Additionally, almost all chemical products used in our homes, restaurants, schools, and businesses eventually end up being released into the environment. The care of the environment is everone's responsibility, especially considering that tens of millions of people live in the New York Bight region!


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Writers and Webmeisters:

Phil Stoffer and Paula Messina

CUNY, Earth & Environmental Science, Ph.D. Program
Hunter College, Department of Geography
Brooklyn College, Department of Geology

In cooperation with
Gateway National Recreational Area
U.S. National Park Service

Copyright September, 1996 (All rights reserved; use as an educational resource encouraged.)>