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12 Proven Shelling Tips That Work 

Sanibel Island Vacation Rentals
January 17, 2020

For many people, shelling is one of the most pleasant activities to enjoy while on the beach. Unlike many other hobbies and activities, shelling doesn’t require years of experience or practice to enjoy. However, following some helpful shelling tips can make shelling adventures even more productive and worthwhile. 

Whether it’s your 1st time shelling or you’re an experienced sheller, there are important shelling tips that you should consider. Details such as what time of day to go shelling, what to bring, and which beach to go to will affect your shelling experience. 

Listed below are 12 proven shelling tips that will help you experience a fun and successful shelling expedition

1. Choose a Good Shelling Spot

One of the main things that you will want to consider is where to actually go shelling. The spot that you pick is going to have a huge effect on not just the amount of shells you can ultimately find, but the quality of those shells. Additionally, you’re going to find different types of shells in various locations. Of course, it’s one thing to know that you might want to choose a good shelling spot, and quite another to actually appreciate how to go about it. After all, what makes a good shelling spot?

Factors such as geographic location, shape of an island, and ocean current direction all play a role in determining the shelling quality of a beach. Southwest Florida is especially known for its amazing shelling beaches, and in particular the popular and beloved Sanibel Island. Because this island is situated in an east to west orientation, more shells wash up onto the shores than on many other beaches. If you visit there, you will be bound to find some amazing shelling opportunities. 

You’ll also want to consider the popularity of the area. If you want a more intimate and less crowded location, don’t choose a highly popular, tourist area. On the other hand, if you don’t mind sharing the beach with more people, choose as you please. 

2. Bring the Right Equipment 

As with any such pastime, shelling is going to be much easier if you bring the right equipment.  The equipment you bring can depend on how long you plan to shell and how many shells you are looking to collect. 

Let’s take a look at some of the essential equipment you will need for shelling.

  • You will need something to hold shells in, which can be as simple as a bucket - or you might want to grab a scoop and net instead.
  • Make sure that you are also wearing appropriate footwear. If you’re only shelling for a short period of time and the sand is soft, you can go barefoot. If you’re going to be out there for longer, consider something more comfortable like sandals or gym shoes.
  • Protecting yourself from the sun is essential, so bring a hat and wear sunscreen.
  • If you are planning on shelling all day, be sure to bring snacks and water.
  • A grabber tool might be necessary for particularly dense areas with lots of shells. In some places, you might not be able to reach all of the shells without risking stepping on and breaking some. Using a grabber or reach will allow you to safely pick up the shells you want without damaging others. 

As you can see, there isn’t much that you really need to bring. The more prepared you are for the day itself, the more likely you are to enjoy it, and the more luck you will have finding some shells. So, make sure that you focus on bringing all of this equipment with you.

3. Protect Yourself From the SunProtect Yourself From the Sun

It’s important to remember that, as well as trying to find some amazing shells in whatever way you can, you also to look after yourself. You would be surprised how much you can be affected by merely having to stand in the sun all day, and this in particular is something to be aware of when you go shelling.

There are a lot of simple ways to protect yourself from the sun, and the most important is that you are wearing the appropriate clothing. That means making sure that you cover as much of your skin as possible, and don’t leave exposed skin out in the sun to burn. A long-sleeved t-shirt should be a good idea here, and shorts or long pants if you are being extra careful. By wearing those clothes, you should be able to protect yourself from the sun considerably better than if you don’t wear them.

Of course, if you’re on vacation in a sunny and warm locale like Florida, you also want to be comfortable. Thankfully, sunscreen will do the trick. As you know, this is vital for stopping you from getting burned, and it is going to be an essential thing that you need to focus on every time you go shelling. When you are shelling, you are likely to be standing out in the sun for many hours, so making a point of wearing sunscreen is going to be very important. Also ensure that you stay out of the sun during its peak hours as much as possible - that is, during 11-3. Try to find shade at these times as much as possible.

Protecting yourself from the sun also involves staying hydrated. While you’re out in the sun, be sure to drink plenty of water. It also doesn’t hurt to cool off by taking a quick swim every so often.

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4. Check to See if the Shell is Still Alive

In many places, including Sanibel Island, it is illegal to take a living shellfish from a beach. In Sanibel Island, violations of this rule can lead to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail for a first time offense. 

Because you need to be so careful about that law in many places, you are going to have to learn how to check that a shell is still alive or not. If it is alive, in most cases you are not allowed to take it. Even if we are not thinking about the law specifically, you probably don’t want to take living shells for moral and ethical reasons, but would much rather merely leave them alone where they are. As such, checking them to see if they are alive is one of the most important parts of the shelling process, and it’s something that you should do as carefully as possible.

At first, you might find that you are not entirely sure how to check to see if a shell is still alive, but it is actually a relatively simple process and one which you will find yourself picking up in no time. Besides, it is a part of the sport of shelling, so it’s something that you will want to learn anyway if you are to consider yourself a true sheller.

To check whether or not a shell is still alive, you need to carry out a number of tests and sight-checks. These are not all that hard in practice, but they might take a little effort and practice before you become skilled at them. Then, whether you are looking for shells on Sanibel or anywhere else, you can make sure that you are working within the law, but also that you are not causing distress or harm to any living creatures along the way. That is clearly going to be important in all cases.

To check whether a shell is still alive, you can:

  • Carry out a basic visual check. Sometimes, you will see the creature straight away, in which case you don’t even need to pick it up.
  • Gently turn the shell over and see if any feelers are moving.
  • Look for green or brown feelers on the shell. This usually indicates a live shellfish.
  • Smell the shell! Live shellfish will emit an odor while empty shells won’t.
  • Be on the lookout for a yellowish stain on your hands after you’ve handled a shell. 
  • Hold the shell upside down for a few seconds. Typically, if a shellfish is inside, it will peak out of the shell.

These are just some basic ways to make sure that you are not taking any live shells. You should carry out these checks on all shells to make sure that you don’t break the law or cause distress to any living creatures.

5. Choose the Right Time

If you are to have as much luck as possible, you will also need to know the best times to go shelling.

The general agreement is that there are three best times to go shelling: early in the morning, at low tide, and at night. If you go early in the morning, you will have a lot more shells on the beach and the visibility of that time of day will make it generally easier to see them. You will also find that you are able to keep out of the sun, which is going to prove important if you are trying to find a lot of shells and you want to spend a long time doing it. Low tide is obviously useful because it means that you have more shells to choose from generally. You will also want to consider going looking during a strong current or during a new or full moon at night, for the same reasons.

A lot of people don’t think too much about this side of things, and don’t really time it at all, and before you know you’re wondering why you’re not finding many shells. If you want to find a lot of shells, you are going to have to make sure that you choose the right time, otherwise there is no betting what kind of luck you may or may not have. Go for these times of day discussed here, and you’ll be happy with your findings.

6. Look for Specific Types of ShellsLook For Specific Types of Shells

Once you start to really get into shelling, you will soon find that you are keen to try and find as many different kinds of shells as possible. Or you might fall in love with some specific types of shell, and you want to make sure that you are going to find as many of them as possible. Because of that, it is worth bearing in mind that many different places are home to many different types of shells. Being aware of some of these pairings will make it easier to find the ones you want.

Knowing some of the different types of shells as well as what they look like is going to help you quite a bit if you are keen to find specific shells. Let’s take a look at some of them now, so that you can hopefully do that more easily.

Here are some of the different types of shells to look out for.

  1. Whorl shells are those which are shaped with a whorl, made around a spiral shape. They are the most common kind of shell in the world.
  2. Bi-valves are those shells which are constructed from two halves, and as such they tend to be symmetrical in design. You can find many kinds of bi-valves everywhere, too.
  3. Sand dollars are a favorite among many shellers. They’re often converted into popular pieces of jewelry.
  4. You can usually find conches on most beaches; these are easily identifiable by their highly characteristic shape.
  5. Then there are those which you would group under the shells from well-known crustaceans, such as scallop shells.

If you understand well the kinds of shells that you can find at different places, you are going to get much more out of the whole experience. But remember too that you are going to need to spend some time doing it and gain experience before you can really hope to learn this stuff, and it just takes time.

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7. Go on a Shelling Tour

For the novice who wants to learn a little more about shelling, one of the best ways to do so is to go on a shelling tour. You can generally do these either alone or with a group of people - or just with one or two loved ones, if you prefer. However you do it, it is a fantastic way to learn about shelling in general. You may also even find out important details that will help you have more luck shelling. It’s definitely worth considering if you are serious about trying out shelling for real.

If you want to go on a shelling tour, then you might want to consider looking out for the many different ones on Sanibel and beyond. There are so many, and you should aim to book with someone who really knows their stuff. Ask around and try to find a good guide who is going to be able to teach you a lot in a short space of time.

8. Visit a Shell Shop

Of course, good and experienced shellers know full well that you don’t find all of your shells on the beach. Often, you will go to visit a shell shop and that is one good way of starting or rounding out your collection. Most people are going to find themselves doing this at some point or another if they are keen to gain more shells, so it’s hardly surprising that it should be so popular. Visiting a shell shop is also a good option for a rainy day when your shelling plans get cancelled. 

As it happens, there are so many shell shops that you might want to think about visiting on Sanibel Island and throughout Southwest Florida especially. Even if you don’t want to use these places to help grow your collection, they can be a wonderful way to learn more about the many different kinds of shells, and to appreciate what diversity there really is out there to find. This alone is a great reason to visit a shell shop every now and then.

They also present a wonderful opportunity for you to meet other like minded folk, and to get to know some shellers in the local area. Those people might have advice for you that you are unlikely to find anywhere else, and they will probably be happy to talk with you about any concerns that you might be having. So visiting a shell shop really is going to help you along nicely.

9. Attend a Shell Festival

In order to learn more about shelling in general, one thing that you might want to do is to attend a shell festival. There are plenty of these, and of course if you are in Sanibel then you are going to be in luck. The world-famous Sanibel Shell Festival takes place every year and is a sight to behold. Going to it is going to be something that really helps you to understand shelling much better indeed.

Going to the Sanibel Shell Festival can help you in a number of ways to become a better sheller.

  • Meet other people and learn from them about the ins and outs of shelling.
  • Attend talks and lectures on shelling, the kinds of shells you find on Sanibel, and much more.
  • See examples of the shells found in the local area.
  • An opportunity to choose between and buy equipment for shelling which you might need.
  • Grab shelling souvenirs and merchandise that you can’t find anywhere else.

Going to an event like the Sanibel Shell Festival is going to ensure that you are much more in with the community around this wonderful hobby. It really is going to help you cement many of the ideas you might have around shelling, and it’s something you are going to want to consider for that reason alone, despite all the other benefits you can find in it too.

10. Identify What You Find

We have already looked briefly at the fact that there are many different kinds of shells you might be able to find anywhere you look. Especially somewhere like Sanibel Island, where there is a huge variety and number of shells that you might be able to spot and pick up. You’re not along if you want to know what it is that you find. Part of the fun is ensuring that you are aware of what you are picking up, and trying to identify them. For many shellers, it is a joy to be able to improve in this as you go shelling more and more.

Of course, if you are ever particularly stuck with a shell that you have found, and you are really not sure what it might be, then you might want to seek out some help identifying. If you are in the local area, one of the best ways to do that is to take your shells that you have found to the Bailey-Matthews National Museum, where the staff members will be happy to help you identify the shells you have found.

If you do that, you will soon come to learn many of them yourself, and you will find that you need their help less and less. But who knows - one of these days, you might take them an extremely rare or even unheard of shell, and that possibility is something that keeps many people going back for more.

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11. Make Multiple Trips

As with any kind of hunting, you are going to have much more luck with it if you make a point of returning time and again to a good spot and trying again in the future. That is especially true if you know it is a good spot for the thing you are looking for. Of course, Sanibel Island is famous for shelling because it is such a strong spot for it, and if you want to get as many different shells as possible then you should make sure to return to Sanibel time and time again.

Shelling multiple times on Sanibel Island will be great for a number of reasons:

  1. If you don’t feel you found enough the first time, returning again will likely net you more shells.
  2. You might also want to return to Sanibel a number of times at different seasons, when conditions are different and the variety of shells differs too.
  3. Perhaps your trip was cut short, and you’d like to return again.
  4. Of course, Sanibel Island is just stunningly beautiful anyway, so that alone is a great reason to come back!

If you do make the point of returning again and again, you are going to develop so much more of a collection of wonderful shells. You will also find that you get to know some of the people who are also interested in this hobby, which is a great way to ensure that you enjoy it more too. Given that there are not many other places in the world where you can shell in such beautiful conditions, it’s hardly surprising that so many people return all the time.

Try to work out how often you are likely to be able to return, and see if it is something that you could do every year. Even going every season might be feasible, and if so then there is absolutely no reason not to do so. You are bound to find it enjoyable, and you will be able to sample many of the other delights of Sanibel Island when you do so, too. Really do consider that and if you find yourself returning to Sanibel, then all the better for it!

12. Perform the Sanibel Stoop

You can’t spend more than a few hours looking for shells on Sanibel Island without hearing about the legendary Sanibel Stoop. This is simply the name that the locals have coined for the act of bending over to look for shells, and it’s something that you will probably find yourself doing before too long if you are a keen sheller! Really, the fact that this name exists is just an indication of what a popular place Sanibel is for shelling of all kinds.

Sanibel is known for its shelling opportunities for a variety of reasons:

  1. It offers a huge variety of shells to find, so you can always be sure of finding something interesting and different.
  2. There is plenty of space to search, so even with how popular it is you are not going to be bombarded with people.
  3. As well as variety, there is just a huge number of shells - it’s not unusual to leave with handfuls!
  4. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Sanibel is such a beautiful place all in all, and somewhere it’s a real pleasure to spend time.

Sanibel Island is such a well-known place for shelling that you just know it is going to be a great place to visit for that reason. Whether you are just getting into shelling or you have been doing it for years, it might well be time for you to perform the Sanibel Stoop and start collecting some of these local shells.

Why is Shelling so Popular on Sanibel Island?

As we have alluded to already, shelling on Sanibel Island is massively popular for a variety of reasons. To begin with, you can find an unusually high variety and number of shells on its beaches, so you are always going to feel that you have had a lot of luck in that way when you come away from Sanibel. It is also home to many local attractions specifically for the keen sheller, such as the museums and the annual festival. Many visitors combine a history lesson and shelling when they visit the Sanibel lighthouse beach. All of this means that shellers love to come to Sanibel Island more than pretty much anywhere else in the world.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Sanibel is so beautiful a place to be, and that you can easily have a vacation here anyway, any time of year. In addition to great shelling options, there are plenty of other things to do on Sanibel Island. If you are looking for a relaxing holiday, there are few places in the world which are better. And you can also be sure of a welcoming and friendly environment, as it is also known for its incredibly friendly locale. All of this makes Sanibel an incredibly popular place to go shelling.

Why Are There So Many Shells on Sanibel Island?Why Are There So Many Shells on Sanibel Island

You might well be wondering what it is that actually leads to there being so many shells in one place. It is actually a result of a number of factors all working together at once, and it is something that many geographers have studied over the years with some fascination. There are not many places in the world quite like Sanibel Island for shells, in fact it may be entirely unique for the amount of shells you can find there.

There are a few reasons there are so many shells on Sanibel Island, including:

  • Large-scale natural events like algal blooms and hurricanes, which Southwest Florida is prone to.
  • Winter storms occur here too(although infrequent), which results in pile-ups of shells.
  • The exoskeletons of molluscs and related creatures get washed up due to predation, as there are so many predators in the nearby waters.
  • Long periods between storms then leave large amounts of shells waiting to be pushed towards the shore.
  • A variety of sea life nearby means more shells on the beach.

Plan The Perfect Shelling Vacation to Sanibel Island

If you are keen to explore Sanibel and understand more about shelling, then planning a shelling vacation to Sanibel Island is going to be the way to go.

For the perfect shelling vacation on Sanibel Island, you’ll want to find somewhere great to stay. There are many ways to approach that, but booking a vacation rental with a trusted company like Royal Shell is your best option. We've been specializing in Sanibel Island vacation rentals for over 20 years. Our vacation specialists live and work on Sanibel Island which means they can recommend the best places to stay to match exactly what you want out of your vacation. Whether you're looking for a Sanibel Island condo rental, a Sanibel Island cottage rental, or another type of property, we can help you. 

With these shelling tips, and the perfect vacation rental to match, you're guaranteed to have the perfect beach and shelling vacation. Check our availability today or contact us to speak to one of our vacation rental experts.

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