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Sanibel Island Shelling

Fred on Shelling

When I was a child, my family spent time on beaches on the Atlantic coast of Florida, and finding shells was fairly uncommon and a big event when we did. So you can imagine my delight and surprise the first time I visited Sanibel and found myself surrounded by shells.

Sanibel is one of the world's best places for shelling mostly due to its shape and position in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, so many visitors to the island's beaches can be seen bent over reaching for shells that there is a name for it: the "Sanibel Stoop."
You'll find shells on most any portion of Sanibel's miles of beaches, but I'd recommend spending time at Blind Pass to hunt for shells. When we first starting going to Sanibel, Blind Pass was actually a pass, or break between Sanibel and Captiva Islands. I believe that the flow of water between the two islands created a higher-than-normal shell deposit spot. Over the years however, the pass filled with sand, completely closing the break between the two islands. In 2004, Hurricane Charley dumped even more sand in the pass.

I'm not sure if the shelling is as good at Blind Pass now as it was before the pass filled in, but you can still find lots of great shells there. In fact, the beaches are carpeted with shells a foot or more deep, in some places.

Susan at Blind Pass on Sanibel Island!

But perhaps the best reason to do your shelling at Blind Pass is to catch the sunset. Much of Sanibel's beaches face to the south, so the sun doesn't set out over the water. The beach at Blind Pass faces westward, giving beachgoers there a fantastic sunset over the Gulf.

Susan on Shelling

I have been collecting shells since I was about 5 years old. My family vacationed in Wilmington, North Carolina every summer. My grandmother lived there--glorious days at the beach for me--with so many happy memories, especially of my Aunt Janet who would sit in the sand and down by the surf with me for hours helping me look for shells. I think she enjoyed it as much as I did.

Shells found at Caya Costa

My grandmother had a neighbor, Mrs. Peters, who was a true shell collector. She had traveled all over the world and had shells displayed in her home in huge glass cases. She told me of traveling to Sanibel Island, Central America, Australia and Tahiti. My aunt and I would visit her when I was in town and she always let me look at her huge collection of shells. I think she was so pleased, even at my young age, that I was so truly fascinated and interested in shells. About a year before she died (I was about 14), my aunt and I were visiting her, and she opened this huge drawer which was full of shells, and she told me to take anything I wanted, in fact, I could take the entire drawer! I about did! The shells were fabulous. She gave me two large rare shells which I still have to this day. Mrs. Peter's spoke of traveling to Sanibel Island but at that time I only knew it was in Florida. Who knew all these years later I would be visiting here yearly and collecting shells! Mrs. Peters would have been pleased. After she died my Aunt Janet and I wondered whatever happened to all of her shells.

The first summer Fred and I were at Sanibel Island, I was truly shocked by the amount of shells on the beach. At first I would walk down the beach, pick up shells and then I realized I couldn't go much farther unless I had a bucket! So after obtaining a bucket I could set out for longer periods of time. The shells I found were fantastic. Many were varieties I had never seen before.
Fred and I chartered a shelling cruise one year with a private boat and captain to go to Caya Costa. Caya Costa is a beautiful island (also a state park) only accessible by boat for some of the best shelling in the area. We left from Captiva Island and the captain took us directly to the ocean side of the beach at Caya Costa. He handed us two very large plastic bags and off we went. We found so many sand dollars and other large shells! It was an amazing experience. Shells were everywhere and the beach was postcard beautiful!

Another year Fred and I rented our own boat and boated to Caya Costa. We parked the boat on the bay side and followed a trail to the beach side. When we were coming back from our shelling, I was attacked by mosquitoes on the trial. I was running for water like a mad-woman! I had about 70 bites when it was said and done! Fred did not get one bite!

Shells Found at Caya Costa

Last year we again rented a boat, this time with friends who were visiting us. We attempted to get down the trail to the beach on Caya Costa and were stopped by fallen trees and debris left from Hurricane Charley. So we tried another path and were blocked by a mama boar protecting her three babies boars (wild pigs). We attempted to pass but she was very aggressive about protecting her babies. So we never made it to the beach. A little later after shelling on the bay side, we saw a father and son running down the beach and into the water, they were being chase by mama boar! It was quite funny! Always an adventure when shelling!!!

Thus, over the last few years I have had to stop myself from picking up every shell I like. I just have too many at home. So now I collect shells for our friend's little girls and boys and our nieces. I can truly say though, I can't go for a walk on Sanibel Island without looking down and doing the Sanibel Stoop!!

Article on Shelling on Sanibel Island
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