Sanibel and Captiva have understandably earned the nicknames of “The Seashell Islands.”
By jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico, bent in a boomerang shape, the islands’ shorelines provide a natural catch-all for millions of shells.
There are about 275 species of shells that can be found in our shallow waters, each with distinctive characteristics, yet beautiful and unique in their own way. Gastropods (mollusks that have one shell) include Florida fighting conchs, lettered olives, lightning whelks and tulip shells. Bivalves (two-shelled mollusks) include calico scallops, calico clams, giant cockles and pen shells, to name a few. Some are elusive – such as the treasured junonia and lion paw scallop – so join the hunt and have some fun!
The best time for shelling is an hour or two before low tide. That’s when you can try your hand at the “Sanibel Stoop,” the familiar position used by shell enthusiasts to collect their finds. Shells can be found on open beaches, bays and inlets, mudflats, and in marshes or seagrass.
Always double check if you’ve accidently collected any “live shells” with animals still in them. If so, gently place the mollusks back in the water. In Lee County, which includes Sanibel and Captiva, it is illegal to collect live mollusks and echinoderms – sand dollars, sea stars and sea urchins.
While we think the beach at Ocean’s Reach is the perfect spot in which to collect your treasures, we admit to being a tad bit biased. If you’d like to roam the island for more, here is a list of public beach accesses on Sanibel and Captiva:
- Causeway Beaches – on the causeway between Fort Myers and Sanibel
- Lighthouse Beach – on the eastern tip of Sanibel
- Gulfside City Park – right next door to Ocean’s Reach
- Tarpon Bay Beach – at the south end of Tarpon Bay Road at West Gulf Drive
- Bowman’s Beach – off Sanibel-Captiva Road
- Turner Beach – at Blind Pass on Captiva
- Captiva Beach – at the end of Captiva Drive
Public beaches offer restroom facilities, and some have picnic tables and showers. All offer free handicap parking. Parking costs $3.00 an hour at all beaches, with the exception of the Causeway beaches; cash and credit cards are accepted. Please note that Captiva beaches do not allow pets, while you are required to leash and clean up after your pet on Sanibel beaches.
If you’re visiting between May 1 – November 1, be sure to keep the beaches dark when you’re strolling them at night. Loggerheads and sea turtles return annually to lay their eggs on our beaches, and light disorients their baby hatchlings away from the water. All outdoor lighting – including flashlights – is banned during nesting season.