Project Shelter is working to address the shortage of shells in order to help hermit crabs by making three-dimensional shells via digital design. Due to the shortage, hermit crabs have been found using bottles, shotgun shells, and other pieces of garbage. The Markerbot community has yet to determine what material will be used, although plastic has so far been used for prototypes. Their aim is to provide shells for domestic hermit crabs in order to free up shells in the wild.
The project has started a Facebook page and a Twitter following for those who are interested in participating. The project has yet to determine if the crabs will actually use the shells as alternate homes.
What remains unclear is why there appears to be a shortage of shells, and not hermit crabs, or if the problem is actually that the hermit crab population is growing. One might also wonder how or if the project plans to return domestic crabs’ shells to the wild, and what locations specifically would be most beneficial to the population.
Perhaps the most pressing question is: why is there a shortage of shells? For species that create shells (hermit crabs do not), seawater must be sufficiently saturated with carbonate ions. A higher than normal acidity in the ocean hampers this process and could be the main culprit. Ocean acidification occurs by the absorption of carbon dioxide into the water, and dramatically affects the lives of species such as oysters, corals, urchins, and other shallow-water organisms. Such animals provide food and a source of employment for the human population.