What the Heck Is Shelling?

Abundance of seashells intermixed with sand on beach

Thanks to our position on the West Coast of Florida, the warm Gulf waters gently wash hundreds of thousands of sea shells ashore each day, often fully intact. This makes The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel a sheller’s paradise. But what exactly is shelling

Shelling is finding, observing and collecting shells from the beach. While most people are casual or amateur shellers, shelling is a big deal to some people in Southwest Florida. Turns out, some people do sell sea shells by the sea shore.

The best time to go shelling is in the morning at low tide in the summer, when you can find 50 to 60 different kinds of shells in a day. You have to be patient though; you’re not likely to find all those at once or on the same beach. And be sure none of shells you collect are inhabited – it’s illegal to take any live shells away from the beach. Sometimes it may look like that sand dollar or starfish isn't alive but they’re actually just waiting for the tide to pull them back into the water. However, it is perfectly legal and actually encouraged to take as many uninhabited shells as you care to take.

Abundance of seashells intermixed with sand on beach

Every year, shell enthusiasts and curious visitors gather for the Annual Sanibel Shell Fair & Show, filled with shell displays, crafts, prizes, food and entertainment. Shellers bring their finds to compete for prizes while visitors enjoy the shells and other treasures from the sea. 

If you’re interested in shelling, there are plenty of tours and guided cruises for collectors to go on. You’ll visit some the best spots and beaches to look for shells, and you’ll probably learn a thing or two along the way. Not only will you go to some shelling hot spots, but also you might see some wildlife along the way, like pods of dolphins or dive-bombing pelicans.

To learn more about shelling, be sure to visit our Shelling page and also check out our photo story on The Sanibel Six!

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