Having now lived in Florida for seven years, one would think I knew a little more about the largest attraction to SWFL — the seashells — but in fact, I have kept myself fairly blissfully ignorant. I say, “blissfully ignorant” because I know that if I would ever learn the names of the shells, which shells were rare, which shells to look for and how to find the best ones, I could never simply walk down a Southwest Florida beach again without a bloodthirsty search for perfect hidden treasure.
But alas, it was time I take the plunge, stoop on Sanibel, crouch on Captiva, and educate myself on this treasure from the sea. I enlisted the help of a friend to help identify some of what is said to be 250 species of shells on these barrier islands, but if you’re not as lucky as me to have a local shell-educated friend, ‘Tween Waters Inn, Captiva Island and Sanibel Island boast a variety of local experts willing to take guests on shelling expeditions in search of knowledge and the perfect souvenir (for a small fee of course).
I learned five of the easier shell names to remember and identify, including angel wings, kitten’s paw, shark’s eye moon shell (my favorite, not only for the name but the stunning swirl of colors), calico scallop and lighting whelk — only 245 more species to remember!
With an abundance of shells, it should be easy work to find a small souvenir to fit in your suitcase, but if you’re seeking the full shelling experience, I also picked up a few tips on digging up the best of the best in crustaceous treasure:
- Make certain to have a container to keep your shells in as you search: As an inexperienced “sheller,” my pockets and hands did not have nearly the capacity necessary.
- Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen: Typically, you have to get up early in the morning around low tide, to snatch up the perfect shell before your competitors, but it’s still hot and still sunny.
- Pay attention to moon phases and tides: It’s amazing what a difference a full moon can make on the extremity of the tides!
But the best recommendation I can give to an inexperienced sheller is simply to stop and enjoy the experience. There is no better sound than the tinkling give and take of the shells being pulled into the ocean by the waves!