It looks like child’s play when 13-year-old Tyrone Chambers throws a hula hoop in the air and lets it fall on Hobuck Beach.

But the Makah Fisheries intern is using it to conduct purple olive shell surveys. After it lands, he takes note of the location in his GPS, then bends down and starts digging in the sand within the hoop, coming up with handfuls of the shells.

“Oh man, this is going to be a lot to count,” he said, as he unearths more shells of various sizes with every handful.

Chambers is helping Jonathan Scordino, the tribe’s marine mammal biologist, with the annual olive shell survey that he has been conducting since 2009 on the north end of Hobuck.

“We know using the hula hoops is a funny way of gathering data but it allows us to randomly sample the beach and be objective about it,” Scordino said.

The data has shown a pretty consistent population since 2009, except 2014 when there was a mass die-off.

“The counts in 2015 and 2016 show that the snail population has recovered,” he said. “However, it is worth noting that the average size of live olive shells declined after the mortality event and it was much less common in 2015 and 2016 to find large olive shells (about an inch long) than it was prior to the mortality event.”

The smooth glass-like shells are important to the tribe because they have been used for at least 500 years as décor on traditional regalia.

Back at Chamber’s digging spot, he had to dig a few inches deeper to count as many of the shells as possible within the hula hoop. His final count: 467.

“Well, I’ll probably beat Jon’s count now,” he said.