Slip on your flip-flops, grab a bucket, and some sun screen, we’re headed to the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel to go shelling in Travel Freak’s Wild Wednesday Column, where we’ve uncovered a rainbow of colorful shells.

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The Florida sunrise slowly dawns upon the horizon, casting a golden hue across the wispy clouds; another beautiful morning along the coast. It’s low tide, which is great for finding shells along the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel. Shelling is an activity we shared with our boys when they were young and, one that everyone can enjoy; just look down, and you never know what kind of shell you might find.May through September is considered peak shelling season along the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel because it’s possible to find 50 to 60 different kinds on a given day. Although, the typical winter cold fronts can produce great shelling on the southwest side of many of the barrier islands. When it comes to planning our visit we take the advice of avid shellers, who believe that anytime is a good time for shelling because you never know what will wash ashore.

Discover A Rainbow Of Colorful Shells

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photo via Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum

There are many guide books on shells, yet on this trip we downloaded the Shell Guide from the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel Visitor and Convention Bureau website to help us identify the shells along the beach. And look at that; we’ve found a calico scallops, and several dwarf arrow tritons. We’ve also discovered conchs, cowries’, sand dollars, and other species of shells here, which is what makes the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel popular for shelling.In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of shells of all shapes, varieties and colors of the rainbow washed in on the currents from the Caribbean. Unlike the shells found along the Gulf region though, here, you’ll discover some of the most sought-after specimens like the brown-speckled Junonia. You’ll also find nauticas, coquinas and other bivalves as well as lettered olives, lightning whelks, baby’s ears, worm shells, and Florida fighting conchs. Then there are the rare finds like the lion’s paw, and ever rarer Junonia, and crown conch.

Live And Let Live – Do Not Collect Live Specimens

I’ve always found the tiniest shells the most intriguing because they’re miniatures of their larger brethren. Often, we find shells with critters still living inside. These we leave alone because there is a ban on collecting live specimens throughout the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, and Florida. Besides, can you imagine the smell on the drive home?

These live specimens do give us the chance to actually admire what once lived in the shells we’ve collected. And, if you’re a photographer your photos of these critters can be entered into the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum’s Annual Live Mollusk Photography Competition. The Museum wants only non-professional photos of live mollusks in their natural environment, which include marine, land, or freshwater mollusks. Photo entries may be submitted electronically by November 8th. The winners will be announced during the week of the Museum’s anniversary, November 18th. The winning entries can be found on the Museum Web site and FaceBook pages, and these photographs will be displayed in the Museum’s Auditorium.

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photo via Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum began as a dream of Sanibel shell enthusiasts, who wanted to share the beauty of shells and mollusks, and their importance to the environment. Now, the museum, located on Sanibel is known world-wide for their amazing collection of shells, and mollusks from the coast of southwest Florida, its barrier islands, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Creative Shell Creations

So, you’ve collected bags of shells – you’ve got lettered olives, scallops, tritons, a few sand dollars, star fish, and many more beautiful specimens. Now what do you do with them? Many folks place their shells in glass bottles. Other’s lay their shells out on a shelf, and some store their collection in boxes. I did the latter for awhile, and then decide it was time to get creative with my shell collection. I used a large poster board for the background, black and blue Post-It notes for the squares, and the edging’s were simply pieces cut out of magazines. A bit of hot glue, highlights with a white marker, and the help of my husband, Leroy, and we’ve created a lovely centerpiece for our living space after we finish our renovations.

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Keep an eye out for creative ideas when you visit the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, and cruise around beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel. There are many beautiful examples of art work to inspire a use for your shell collection. And, the best part about collecting the shells are the memories we’ve shared with our family and friends. It’s nice to just simply walk along the shore together; it’s a unforgettable experience. With no distractions from the outside world, we’re free to just embrace the moment, and isn’t that what a vacation is all about?

Happy Shelling!

Plan Your Visit To The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, Florida

To explore locations for shelling, area recreation, attractions, events, and plan your getaway to the Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, Florida visit their website or call 1-800-237-6444.
To learn about the rules for the Bailey Matthews Shell Museum’s Annual Live Mollusk Photography Competition, shelling programs, exhibits, and events at the museum visit their site or call 1-888-679-6450. They are located at 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road in Sanibel, Florida, and open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, with the exception of New Year Day, Easter Sunday, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

Wild Wednesday Facts:

  • Remember, live shelling is banned, so be sure to leave those shells with animals in them alone. You can collect as many uninhabited shells, or those in which the animals or mollusks are already dead as you like though.
  • Safety At The Beach – Watch For Colored Lifeguard Flags – In last week’s Wild Wednesday column we explored the mysterious world of sharks, and shared some important safety tips for beach-goers. With the current hurricane’s causing high surfs along the East and West coast be sure to watch the life guard station for the COLORED WARNING FLAGS.
  • The Annual Sanibel Shell Fair and Show in March began with a few islanders sharing their shelling finds on a porch. Today, the event draws shellers from around the world, who browse the shell displays, crafts, compete for prizes, and enjoy entertainment and food.
  • Did You Know? The Sailor’s Valentines shell was a popular gift that sailors brought home to their sweethearts in the 1800’s.

Will you visit the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, Florida?

photos via Melody Schubert unless otherwise noted


With a passion for travel and creativity, Journalist and Photographer, Melody Schubert let’s her imagination guide her as she explores the world. For her, everyday is an opportunity to embrace something new, and explore intriguing and overlooked destinations that express the heart of a region, and share these discoveries with readers of Travel Freak. She is also Editorial Executive for USA Travel Magazine - http://www.usatravelmagazine.com/ where she shares more of travel interests.

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