Sim­plic­ity of Shelling

An­swers to FAQs About Our Re­gion’s Fa­vorite Hobby

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Peo­ple come from all over the world to search for, rel­ish and ap­pre­ci­ate some 300 va­ri­eties of shells right here on the beaches of South­west Florida.

Dur­ing the past two decades, I have been for­tu­nate to be a shelling na­ture guide, de­part­ing from Cap­tiva Is­land and trav­el­ing to bar­rier is­lands such as North Cap­tiva and Cayo Costa—and sand­bars in be­tween. From my in­volve­ment with shellers young and old, ex­pe­ri­enced or novice, I of­ten get asked the fol­low­ing ques­tions re­lated to shelling.


Any­time you can go to the beach is a good day to shell! I guess I am not as par­tic­u­lar as some peo­ple. The time when it could pos­si­bly be bet­ter is af­ter strong winds, which can hap­pen in the win­ter months when “cold fronts” pass through.

WHERE DO YOU FIND BIG SHELLS? At the shell shop! Peo­ple al­ways want BIG shells. The truth is that a lot of big shells don’t just roll up on the beach—unless af­ter strong winds or a trop­i­cal sys­tem. One of the best (and big­gest) light­ning whelk shells I have seen was ac­tu­ally found by my wife. We were on Cayo Costa shortly af­ter Trop­i­cal Storm Gor­don in 1994. She no­ticed a small piece of shell and started dig­ging around it. Af­ter a few min­utes of dig­ging, she un­earthed a beau­ti­ful light­ning whelk.

IS IT BET­TER AT LOW TIDE OR HIGH TIDE? I get this ques­tion a lot and I know that many peo­ple like to shell at low tide. How­ever, low tide is not the “be all and end all” for shelling. Some of the best shells I have found have been at high tide af­ter storms. Low tide can be very good, but it also de­pends a lot on the wind as to how far up the high­t­ide wa­ter is, or how low the low-tide wa­ter is.

I’ve seen great shelling at su­per-high tides, medium tides and su­per moon tides. The force of na­ture that dic­tates shelling the most is the wind. High tide or low tide, just get out there and shell. You never know what the sea will of­fer—and that is the beauty of shelling.


SHELL? May, June, July, Au­gust and Septem­ber. Why? The wa­ter is warm, lighter cloth­ing may be worn, and we gen­er­ally have clearer wa­ter which makes it eas­ier to see the shells. Did I men­tion that the wa­ter is warmer?


That would have to be an At­lantic car­rier shell. This shell re­minds me of Carol Sell­ers—a sheller who walked many miles and ob­served many shells. Like the car­rier shell, Sell­ers en­joyed all the shells around her. She lived on Cayo Costa—as a per­ma­nent res­i­dent—from 1974 to 2007.

The an­swers to shelling are like the tide, and are ever-

The force of na­ture that dic­tates shelling the most is the wind.

“The waves echo be­hind me. Pa­tience— Faith—Open­ness, is what the sea has to teach. Sim­plic­ity—Soli­tude— In­ter­mit­tency … But there are other beaches to ex­plore. There are more shells to find. This is only a be­gin­ning.” —Anne Mor­row Lind­bergh, Gift from the Sea, 1955

chang­ing—like the shells that roll to the beach. I of­ten think of this quote from an­other sheller who en­joyed the soli­tude and shells on the beach of Cap­tiva:

Capt. Brian Ho­l­away is a Florida mas­ter nat­u­ral­ist and has been a South­west Florida shelling and eco-tour guide since 1995. His char­ters visit the is­lands of Pine Is­land Sound, in­clud­ing Cayo Costa State Park, Cab­bage Key, Pine Is­land and North Cap­tiva.

The bounty from a day of shelling: sand dol­lars, whelks, olive shells and more.

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