Do you love seashells? Ever wonder where they come from and why they seem more plentiful at some beaches than others? What other gifts from the sea do people find washed ashore on Lee County beaches? Tired of staying indoors during cold winter months? Whether you love diving headlong into the rush of the tide or want to pass time beachcombing and taking in wonders of ocean nature, make shelling your upcoming best-ever retreat.

How Do Seashells Get to Sanibel?

Shells traveling from southern seas northward in the current from the beginning of the Gulf Stream get caught on the sandy shores of Sanibel, which lies on the outer point of a barrier reef within the east-west orientation of the Gulf of Mexico. Wintery northwest winds act as nature’s limousine naturally transporting a higher influx of shells to Sanibel’s southern torc. Though all rarely occur simultaneously, the best conditions and times for shelling on Sanibel beaches are:

  • exceptionally low tide
  • full moon
  • northwest wind
  • a couple of days after a storm
  • winter months
  • just before and after low tide

Annual Shell Events

First Annual National Sea Shell Day: June 20, 2016, Sanibel Island. Don’t miss the second annual event in June, 2017!

80th Annual Sanibel Shell Fair and Show Festival: First week of March, 2017

Where to Go Shelling in Fort Myers

Bicycle on beaches ashore, or travel over sea to undeveloped, unspoiled Florida state parks on North Captiva and Cayo Costa. Accessible only by boat, both are excellent shelling locations. Book a half-day or full-day beach and shelling excursion. Cruise across Pine Island Sound, where you may see dolphins and other marine life on your way, or go all out shell-hopping to a beach a day during your stay.

Where to Stay for Daily Shelling Access

Imagine waking and walking outside your door to step onto the beach for another day’s shelling or moonlighting at low tide! Island Inn and West Wind Inn cater to shelling enthusiasts with shelling themed decor and beachfront access to miles of some of the best beaches in the world for shelling.

  • Sandalfoot Beachfront Condominium, Sanibel
  • ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort and Spa, Captiva Island
  • Casa Ybel Resort, Sanibel
  • The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village
  • DiamondHead Beach Resort and Spa, Fort Myers Beach
  • Red Coconut RV Park, Fort Myers Beach
  • South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island is especially kid-friendly.

Whatever your style, Sanibel has places to stay from condos to cottages and private homes to hotels.

History of Shells

If you find seashells fascinating but the beach is not your cup of tea, you may enjoy exploring these special seashell collections:

The only shell museum in the United States, The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Browse displays of amazing seashells from all over the world, and find out about the roles they have played throughout history. Check out their Southwest Florida Shell guide for the most accurate information and newfound scientific discoveries. Perhaps you will be tempted to test your new knowledge identifying at least a couple of shells on a local beach during your Sanibel stay. The popular Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers is 60,000 square feet part retail and part nature park.

Searching for treasures beachcombing by a seashore and glimpsing turtles nesting down by a bay are priceless experiences that live within long after you leave these habitats. From luxury resorts to quaint hotels, Sanibel has accommodations and amenities to suit every style without shelling out a fortune. Come. Stay awhile, and remember your shelling sashay at Sanibel: Sway with the tides. Smell the salty spray. Feel the surf lapping your feet. Replay spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Hear the ocean roar while holding a gift from the sea in your hand until you are ready to give it away.

You could be doing the Sanibel stoop meandering along Fort Myers beaches before your next manic Monday marches in. Come shelling on Sanibel Island or Bonita Beach. The barrier reef islands off of Fort Myers Beach, Florida, are one of nature’s biggest banks of shell deposits. Set the stage for inspiring and memorable beach destination family reunions, classroom field trips, corporate conventions, guy or girlfriend getaways, wedding or renewal vows and honeymoons shelling on Florida’s Gulf coast.

Types of Seashells Found in Southwest Florida

Numerous shell guides are available to carry to identify your finds. Remember that the variety of shells on any beach are subject to change. They may be very different from one day or week to the next. Serious shell collectors comb beaches as often as possible so they do not miss that rare or rarely seen shell’s appearance on their favorite beach.Common types of shells found on Sanibel and Fort Myers beaches include Lighting Whelk, Worm Shell, Horse Conch, Junonia, and Lettered Olive. Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum’s mollusk guide will help you identify shells you find. It showcases over 360 types of shells that were collected on southwest Florida Gulf beaches, especially Captiva Island and Sanibel Island.

Beachcombing for Other Gifts From the Sea

So, you land on a beach to do some shelling. Where do you go from there? Beaches have zones, or different areas where certain types of shells live or are found, and there are other living and non-living sea treasures to behold on a beach. Wrack lines, or lines of debris, can be thin or thick and scattered or deep with any mix of seaweed, shells, sponges, and gems like like long egg pods from lightning whelks. Tidal pools, sandbars and snorkeling zones harbor different types of seashells, fossils and living gifts from the sea.

Other gifts from the sea you may find on any given day are sea algae, sea grasses, sea pork and driftwood. Sea glass tumbled by nature is increasingly rare to find in places like Florida, where people are moving away from dumping garbage in the oceans and replacing glass with plastic as packaging material. You might find a sea urchin test or seahorse skeleton.

What Were Seashells Before They Washed Shore?

They were living creatures, what we call live shells, and the term seashell refers to their non-living exoskeletons that remain once the creature living inside it is gone. Mollusks, for example, are what many seashells are before they wash ashore. The lovely, sun-bleached white Sand Dollars we see have a layer of fuzzy-feeling spines and greenish color when they are alive.

Harvesting of live shells is strictly forbidden or otherwise regulated in many areas to help protect endangered species and to ensure that enough of those considered plentiful are left alone to reproduce. Ask about licensing, limits, harvesting methods, and seasons before you take any live shells. Carefully inspect for defects any shells you plan on taking before you leave the site, and place back into the water ones that are defective. Conscientious collectors and environmentalists leave a shelling area as undisturbed as possible. Gently observe live shells, and no evictions, please, of shells re-purposed by creatures like hermit crabs.

Collecting Seashells

People may be collecting seashells for scientific study, for use as a type of currency or exchange, for displays, for making jewelry or decorative items, or for sheer pleasure of their beauty and wonder. Shapes found in nature, for example, inspire human applications, like the spiral used in architectural engineering. It may be a shell’s vivid color, striking pattern, or fascinating texture that captivates your senses.

What makes a shell prized or rare are conditions like having a flawless exoskeleton, intact bi-valve, brilliant markings, unusual size, and extinct or newly discovered species.Seashells collecting is very inexpensive. All you need are sunscreen, a bag to put the shells in and a shell identification guide. You could bring surf shoes to protect feet from sharp cuts and a mask for snorkeling for shells in shallow water.

You can weave your way along nature’s sun-warmed sand sauna doing the Sanibel stoop beneath a spectacular array of skies colored by the same star’s greetings and farewells. Come search for sea treasures on Captiva Island or Marco Island during your next beach getaway. Take back something worth remembering, something more than what a seashell with an ocean roar can whisper in your ear.