Shells and shell fragments are biogenic structures that are widespread throughout natural sandy shelf seas and whose presence can affect the bed roughness and erodibility of the seabed. An important and direct consequence is the effect on the formation and movement of small bedforms such as sand ripples. We experimentally measured ripple formation and the migration of a mixture of natural sand with increasing volumes of shell material in a racetrack flume. Our experiments reveal the impacts of shells on ripple development in sandy sediment, providing information that was previously lacking. Shells expedite the onset of sediment transport while simultaneously reducing ripple dimensions and slowing down their migration rates. Moreover, increasing shell content enhances near-bed flow velocity due to the reduction of bed friction that is partly caused by a decrease in average ripple size and occurrence. This, in essence, limits the rate and magnitude of bed load transport. Given the large influence of shell content on sediment dynamics as well as the high shell concentrations found naturally in the sediments of shallow seas, a significant control from shells on the morphodynamics of sandy marine habitats is expected.