In days gone by before roads were built over the sand dunes in Reebok, we would find ancient middens full of alikreukel shells in the dune valleys. These huge piles of shells were left by our ancestors, the strandlopers, after their brain enriching seafood meals.
Turbo sarmaticus, olly croc, olly krik, giant turban shell, whatever you choose to call it, this slow growing herbivorous snail, once so plentiful, is becoming scarcer and scarcer in unprotected areas because there are more and more people catching and eating, or using them for bait, as our population explodes.
They are endemic to South Africa and are only found in the subtidal and intertidal zone between False Bay and the Transkei where, with a license you are allowed to catch 5 a day! They also must be big enough not to pass through a 63.5mm ring and it takes them 3 or 4 years to grow to that size, the maximum size being about 100mm. They have a round ‘front door’ or operculum which has rough nodules on the outside that closes to trap water and protect the animal. I once saw a tug of war between an alikreukel and an octopus, with the octopus trying to pull the snail out of its shell and the snail trying to close its operculum. Unfortunately a big wave came along and interrupted the tussle and I didn’t see who won.
The shells in the picture are mostly so old, collected from the middens, that they’ve lost their outer brown surface to expose the beautiful mother of pearl underneath. This is another reason that they are collected commercially. Would it not be better to observe them in their natural habitat and leave them to live another day!