A few years ago I started a marine aquarium. It’s a 400L behemoth of salt water, rock, coral and some beautiful fish. The whole idea behind it was to have something at home, that I could invest my time and energy into- that would enable me to relax.
To be brutally honest, since the birth of my daughter in 2008, my mental and physical health have not been great. I was needing an outlet different to other creative pursuits. I have been fascinated with coral reefs since I was very young, and I was bored of freshwater fish.
One of the fundamental aspects of keeping a small part of the ocean in your home, is to introduce a “clean-up crew”. The crew is a gang of assorted snails, hermit crabs, starfish and marine worms that eat left-over food and pest algae that would otherwise dirty and suffocate your system.
I discovered that it’s possible to collect snails from the beach which were very well suited to my indoor reef. I have never wanted to pillage the creatures of our struggling natural coral reefs, so pop to the beach occasionally when I might need a few extra helpers to consume algae. There are strict bag limits, I only collect the most common creatures in acceptable numbers, and purchase professionally collected species to balance the ecosystem’s needs.
This brings me to Operculum. At some point in my aquarium’s life over the last 3-4 years, I found a little round or oval shell with a funny pattern on one side that resembled a human ear. I have always collected shells. For much of my childhood, my grandparents and an Aunt would bring me baskets full of gorgeous shells after holidaying on Lord Howe Island each year.
I have kept some quite large snails at times. Trochus, Turbinaria, Triton species. You often find Operculum washed up on the beach in various states of wear. Operculum are the shell coverings marine snails use to protect themselves from predators. They are attached to one side of it, and as they pull themselves into their shell, the calcaerous covering seals their shell for as long as necessary.
I started to collect the Operculum I found on the beach, and in my aquarium from snails that die. I am inspired to make jewellery with them when I can be confident that I can successfully craft the projects I have in mind.
I have become somewhat obsessed with Operculum. The word itself is gorgeous. The snails of marine environments have developed quite and extraordinary adaptation in order to respond to danger. It is very hard to remove a snail from its shell when the Opercula is in place. It’s like a rubber bath plug with no handle sitting at the bottom of a bath full of hot water… very hard to get hold of, and the pressure is great. Without a very fine probe to get between the shell and its plug, you are unlikely to succeed while the snail is living.
As far as creativity and innovation go, I think it is safe to call Operculum an extraordinary feat of innovative evolution.