Stoop for buried treasure.

Thanks to geography and our east-west orientation the gentle waves catch incoming shells of all shapes, varieties and colors. They arrive daily by the hundreds of thousands, mostly fully intact and ready to be dusted off by seasoned shelling professionals and souvenir scavengers alike. Find horse conchs, calico scallops, banded tulips, starfish, corkscrew-shaped augers, sand dollars, the rare lion's paw and the rarer Junonia shell among hundreds of others. Just keep your eyes on the sand.

The Ideal Environment.

Many people come to the area for one reason only – the incredible shelling. The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel produces spectacular specimens because the currents bring shells from the Caribbean to local shores. The wide continental shelf provides a gently sloping incline that allows many shells to arrive unscathed. And warm Gulf waters provide ample opportunity for the creatures to reproduce.

You'll find some of the most sought-after shells, such as the crown conch, in the sound, where the different salinity levels mean the mollusk population differs from that found in the Gulf. But, cautions Anne Joffe, owner of She Sells Sea Shells and head of the Sanibel Shell Fair and Show, those who come looking for a particular shell often find everything but that shell. "I always tell people, ‘Don't close your mind – be open to finding everything.’”

Charter Shelling Trips
For the serious shell collector, consider taking a private charter shelling cruise. There are dozens of shelling guides who can help you find the perfect shell on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Captain Brian Holaway has been helping folks find the best shelling spots for 20 years.

Every day on the water creates new shelling experiences because of the change in tide or shoreline, Holaway said. He takes great pride in leading both serious and novice shell collectors to remote beaches or flats in search of that one particular shell. Holaway, a certified Florida Master Naturalist, provides information on the wildlife, plants and rich history of the area.

Many experienced shell collectors are often searching for shells to add to their collections.  Most can expect to find lettered olives, lightning whelks, Florida fighting conchs, baby’s ears, worm shells, nauticas, scallops, coquinas and other bivalves. One of the rarest finds – and the shell that keeps many returning - is the brown-speckled Junonia.

The ride to the shore is also full of surprises. Shell enthusiasts watch dolphins swim, enjoy a sunset or capture an osprey diving for dinner.

No one can deny the appeal of wandering a deserted beach in search of shells.

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Shelling tips
Shell early morning. Low tide is best.

Avid shellers say that anytime is a good time for shelling, as one never knows what will wash ashore. The thrill of the search is part of the allure. Peak shelling season is generally considered to be May through September where it is possible to find 50 to 60 different kinds on a given day. Typical winter cold fronts produce great shelling on the southwest side of many barrier islands with changing tides, strong currents and prime weather conditions constantly changing island formations.

Be patient!
No one area is good all the time and no collection worth viewing was ever found on one outing. Yet there is something innately appealing about shelling that keeps most people coming back time after time, year after year. Morning, evening or midday, shell seekers throughout the islands and mainland coasts of The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel assume the famous “Sanibel Stoop" or “Captiva Crouch," position to gather gifts from the sea.

Celebrate the shell!
It is no surprise that shelling enthusiasts gather each year for an annual shell fair that draws visitors from all over the world. One of the most unique events in the country, it began on a porch with just a few islanders and has evolved into today's Annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show, which takes place at the Sanibel Community House on Periwinkle Way. The event includes demonstrations, shell displays, crafts, prizes, food and entertainment. Serious shellers compete for prizes while visitors shop and enjoy treasures that include award-winning Sailor's Valentines, popular in the 1800s when sailors brought them home to their sweethearts.

Help preserve this natural resource
The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel treasures this natural visitor attraction. Shell activists work to preserve this natural resource and protect live shells from being over-harvested and endangered. By signature of the late Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, the City of Sanibel Island banned all live shelling as of Jan. 1, 1995. As of March 2002, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, at the request of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, also banned all live shelling throughout the Fort Myers and Sanibel area. However, collection of uninhabited shells, ones where the animals or mollusks are already dead or gone from the shell, is unlimited and encouraged.
  • Shelling Brochure

    Step carefully. Under your feet could be the ultimate souvenir. As many as 400 varieties of shells lie in the shallows or wash-up on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel daily, but these 10 represent the crown jewel of shell collecting. Download the online brochure!

  • Our Pinterest Board

    The best shelling is found on the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva islands. The islands rank tops in the world for shelling because of their unique geography. The east-west torque of Sanibel’s south end acts like a shovel scooping up all the seashells that the Gulf imports from the Caribbean and other southern seas.
    Click here to see!

  • On Water Activities

    We owe everything to the warm Gulf waters that surround us. The soft, white sand beaches to play on, the millions of shells to find, or the days spent kayaking, boating or fishing – none of which would be possible without it. The water connects us to nature, and with each new discovery, to each other. Click here to view other water activities!

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