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Shelling on Sanibel Island

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Shelling on Sanibel Island


Shelling on Sanibel Island is a fun tradition that dates back to the 1850s and has been going strong ever since. 


This popular hobby has captured the hearts of people of all ages and backgrounds. People come from all over the world to enjoy the beautiful island of Sanibel. 


Sun, beach, people and shells, shells, and more shells. That’s what you will find on Sanibel Island. 


What makes Sanibel Island the perfect place for shelling?

Sanibel Island

There is an abundance of shells on Sanibel Island and the island lies ‘east and west’ which is different from most islands that lie ‘north and south.’


This directional difference puts Sanibel Island in the perfect position to catch those magnificent shells the Gulf of Mexico brings to our shores.


National Seashell Day on Sanibel Island


Sanibel Island celebrates National Seashell Day on June 21st. Every day you can have fun in the sun while shelling on Sanibel, but on this particular day, we all get to celebrate and participate in the fun activities on Sanibel Island.


The Sanibel Stoop

sanibel stoop on sanibel island

Anyone who has ever searched for shells on Sanibel Island knows the stance we all take.


That stance is affectionately known as the ‘Sanibel Stoop,’ or in other words, bent over and head down. The resulting backache is totally worth it after a long day of stooping, searching, and digging once you find that prized shell.


When is the best time to go shelling on Sanibel Island?


Anytime is a great time to go shelling on Sanibel Island, but at specific times there are more shells that wash ashore resulting in huge mounds of shells waiting to be plundered.


So to increase your odds of finding those coveted, rare finds, go during one of these times: 


  • Low tide
  • After a storm
  • During a strong current 
  • Early in the morning
  • A full moon or new moon

Where are the best places to go shelling on Sanibel Island?


According to the locals, Lighthouse Beach and Blind Pass are the two best areas on Sanibel Island to go shelling. 


Useful tools for shelling on Sanibel Island

sifter for shelling on Sanibel Islandmini rake for shelling on sanibel islandnetted bag for shelling on sanibel island

Having at least some basic tools will make it much easier to dig for shells. So before you go shelling on Sanibel next time, stop by the store and pick up a few of these handy items.


A mini rake, or a shovel, a bucket or bag (I discovered a netted bag to be a perfect way to drain the water and hold the shells.) Also, a sifter will come in handy, you can scoop and sift the sand to see what you were fortunate enough to dig up.


No matter what tools you use, even if it’s your hands, the main point is to relax and enjoy your time on Sanibel Island.


Types of shells you will find (and hope to find) on Sanibel Island


According to the website of the Sanibel & Captiva Chamber of Commerce, there are assorted types of shells you will discover on these beautiful beaches of Sanibel Island. Some shells are more common.


The Junonia shell is the “most coveted” and will get your picture in the local paper. Other types of shells you will find on Sanibel Island are Conch, Lightning Whelk, Cockle, Tulip, Sand Dollar, and Coquinas.


Shelling Laws on Sanibel Island

sea urchin on sanibel island   sea urchin

The State of Florida has outlawed the collecting or harvesting of more than 2 ‘live’ shellfish of any single species on Sanibel Island per person, per day. This is defined as any shell containing an inhabitant. 


It’s called Rule 46-26 and it is enacted by the Department of Environmental Protection. Sand dollars, sea urchins, and starfish are also protected. Shelling on Sanibel is a privilege and we should all do our part to protect it.


If you would like more information before going out to shell on Sanibel Island, you can visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.


What to do with those shells you find on Sanibel Island?

vase of shells from sanibel island

There is no shortage of suggestions of what to do with the shells you collect on Sanibel Island. After cleaning your shells, you can find different ways to display them throughout your home and be as creative as you like with decorating anything from picture frames to vases.


They also make great gifts. For the entrepreneurial-minded person, maybe there is a way to earn a few extra dollars from your collection. 


Whatever you decide to do, the great thing is, there is an abundant supply of shells on Sanibel Island and it gives you a great excuse to hit the beach.


Dedicated shellers who visit Sanibel Island


There are people of all ages, nationalities, and backgrounds who have one thing in common, they love shelling on Sanibel Island. Some are part-time and others are year-round residents.


The love of shelling brings us all together to enjoy the mesmerizing shores of Sanibel Island and to dig, dig, dig. One of these residents was kind enough to answer a couple of questions. Mrs. Jessica Pavichevich of Fort Myers, who goes to Blind Pass (her favorite spot to shell) as often as she can.


When asked if shelling on Sanibel Island is any different now in comparison to years ago when she first discovered the fun of shelling, Mrs. Pavichevich said, “ the only thing that has changed it seems is the number of people that come to the island to dig for shells.”


“There were days when I felt like I had the whole beach to myself back then, but that is a rare thing these days. It’s okay though, I get so much joy watching others discover the thrill of finding all kinds of neat looking, beautiful shells.” 


I asked Mrs. Pavichevich if she has a favorite shell that she likes to find when shelling on Sanibel Island. She stated “ I simply love finding the shell that looks like it has a spine growing out of it. I didn’t know what it was called back then, but I now know it is called the Florida Spiny Jewelbox and I am overjoyed when I find one.”    florida spiny jewelbox


Shelling on Sanibel Island is a time-honored tradition


Whether you are an avid collector or just someone who loves the beach and occasionally looks to see what you can find, shelling on Sanibel Island is a great way to spend your time while also enjoying the beautiful scenery.

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