People come to Sanibel Island from all over the world to collect shells. walk it’s beaches and to see it’s sunsets. There are millions of shells that wash up on the beaches because of the unique shape of Sanibel and how it lies along the coastline. It’s banana shape and curve allows it to scoop up shells that are carried by the currents and tides of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Some of the more commonly seen shells are Lightning Welks, Conch’s, Junonia’s, Cockles and Scallops.
Shells can have living animals in them called mollusks which secrete a liquid which then form’s that hard outer covering we recognize as a shell. Not all shells have living mollusks in them but the ones that do are prohibited from collecting. Shells can be single shells such as welks and conchs or bi-valves whose shells open and close. Bi-valves include clams, oysters and scallops.
The best time to collect shells are at low tide after the currents have deposited them on the beach or at Spring low tides at new or full moons. Another good time to collect shells are after storms. The smaller shells are located at the southern or east end of the island near the lighthouse. The larger shells are located near the western or northern part of Sanibel and Captiva Islands, however any place on the island is a good place to collect shells. The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is a great visit for those who want to see shells from around the world.
Some travel companies have rated Sanibel Shell collecting as the 7th best attraction in Florida. You can read about the list and more about shell collecting on Sanibel at Sanibel-Captiva.org. So what do wetlands have to do with salt water shells ? Estuaries which are a mixture of fresh and saltwater and originate inland carry nutrient laden waters to the coastlines and affect the marine life and water quality of the Gulf of Mexico and our beaches. That’s what all the hub bub has been about lately in the news regarding citizens wanting the state to buy more land in Florida to collect this contaminated water before it affects our shores.