Crowd-sourcing is seeking to put right one of humanity’s many wrongs against nature. To be fair many people, especially children, wouldn’t imagine that collecting shells would have any major effect on marine life but the hermit crab is losing out.
Hermit crabs live close to the shore and use discarded shells of other creatures for protection, as they grow they change shells to something more suitable. It is the larger shells in particular that in many areas are in short supply as people take them from the shore’s edge at a quicker rate than they are replenished.
Maker Bot have launched a crowd-sourcing project based around 3D printing services to manufacture suitable replacement shells. The project is ongoing but many users of MakerBot’s do it yourself 3D printers are using their own 3D printing services to create prototype shells and to share shell designs with each other online.
The project, named project shellter, currently has the 3D printing services of around 5,000 3D printers at its disposal and right now prototypes are being made and then tested in Maker Bot’s own aquarium as well as those of other crowd-sourcers.
The project could still comer to nothing;currently3D printing services for the shells are being done using plastic: the plastic itself is strong and sturdy and redesigns can make sure that it is thick enough and strong enough, but will hermit crabs be happy to use plastic shells? It seems currently hermit crabs are in fact resorting to anything from glass bottles to shotgun shells in their search for a home so it is hoped that a plastic shell will be a perfectly acceptable solution. Another consideration will be whether colored printing, either monotone in a suitable color or full color, will be necessary for convincing hermit crabs to try on a plastic shell for size.
If the crowd-sourcers are really successful it is hoped that the plastic shells could in fact be more robust than real shells: with any luck they will last much longer than ordinary shells, which eventually break up, the shells then could provide housing for many generations of hermit crabs.
As well as being longer lasting could it be that the design will actually be more comfortable for the hermit crabs than the shells they usually find? Rather than basing the shell design on existing shells some in the project shelter community are actually basing the design on the body of the hermit crab: this could mean that no longer will hermit crabs have to make do with ill fitting shells designed for other creatures: they can have shells designed with them in mind.
Quite how many shells would be needed worldwide would still need to be calculated and it may be that the prolificacy of 3D printing services would have to expand a lot to offer a real worldwide solution. Perhaps then the solution should be more to use 3D printed shells to replace those that people take to use in their aquariums, including for those who have hermit crabs at home.