Sanibel Island Florida

Shelling on Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island Sea Shells | Shelling on Sanibel Island, How to find the best sea shells on Sanibel Island

The position of Sanibel Island off the coast of Florida provides the perfect conditions unique only to Sanibel Island allowing beautiful sea shells to wash up daily onto beaches of Sanibel which is why Sanibel Island earned it's title, "Seashell Capital of the World". You can hunt for sea shells on Sanibel Island beaches or hire a local captain to take you on a guided shelling trip to many of the secluded beaches accessible only by boat. 

During your visit to Sanibel Island, be sure to stop by the famous Shell Museum, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. The shell museum offers fun for the whole family with exhibits of shells found around the world, shell craft exhibits, learning labs and touch tanks for kids and adults and so much more!  For more information including hours of operation and prices, visit: Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

When is the best time to look for sea shells on Sanibel Island?

The best time to go beachcombing for sea shells and sea glass is during low tide as the calm waters gently pull the sand away naturally sifting through the sand, leaving more shell on the beach and sandbar exposed. This is also the perfect time to search for sand dollars. You'll have too many to choose from, so make sure you bring something to carry them.

Sea Shells on Sanibel Island - The best time to look for sea shells on Sanibel Island

Another great time to go shelling is after a storm. A storm which provides big waves churning up the shells and glass lying at the bottom of the Gulf. After the storm, the larger waves toss up those perfect large shells at high tide.

Be sure to leave the live mullusk shells, starfish and sand dollars behind. How can you tell if the sand dollar or starfish is alive? Flip the sand dollar or starfish upside down. It will have millions of little centipede-like feet that you can see and feel moving on your hand. Also, if the sand dollar is purple in color chances are it's still alive! The state of Florida and it's counties and parks have specific laws regarding harvesting living organisms from the ocean and their shorelines. So double check if there's a mullusk in the shell or if the sand dollar or starfish is alive before taking!

During your visit on Sanibel Island and before you go shelling, Florida's Sanibel Island suggests taking an eco tour during your visit to Sanibel Island. You're learn about Sanibel Island's unique ecosystem and the wildlife, fish, mullusks and organisms that call Sanibel Island home and why it's important to protect their the habitat. You'll also get expert advice on shell identification and the mullusks that live in those shells. Visit: Eco Tours Sanibel Island

A Live Sand dollar found on Sanibel Island - How to tell if Sand Dollars are alive!

A live Sand dollar on Sanibel Island beach.

Cleaning your seashells

How To clean your seashells? Use a 50/50 solution of bleach and water over night to get rid of living organisms and barnacles and brighten them up. Now that you’ve cleaned your shells, make them shine by wiping them with mineral oil or baby oil. To clean a sand dollars and starfish, soak in fresh water first. Change the water frequently until fairly clear. Then soak in a 50/50 solution of bleach and water for 5-10 minutes. Don’t soak too much longer than that because the bleach solution may crumble your sand dollar. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water to remove bleach solution then let them dry preferably in the sun.

Sea glass

Sea glass is manmade glass that has wound up in the ocean, tumbled and smoothed by the water and sand, creating small pieces of smooth and beautifully frosted glass. More common colors of sea glass include, brown, green and clear or white, originating from beer and wine bottles, windows and old Clorox bottles.
Rare sea glass colors include red, yellow, orange sea foam green, purple, black or dark olive green, and pink. Originating from old boat lights, Depression glass, soda bottles from the mid 1900’s, spirit bottles, old Vaseline jars, whiskey and medicine bottles.
Sea glass is a rare example of a valuable item being created from the actions of the environment on man-made litter. Many people sell their pieces, as found or as-is or display them in a glass jar or tumbler, while others make them into gorgeous pieces of jewelry.

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annual shell show, Sanibel Island

The Sanibel Island Annual Shell Show is an event that attracts shell lovers and people from all over the world! You can find some of the most exotic shells right here on Sanibel Island at this yearly 3 day event held every in March. People gather to show, sell and share seashells.  For more information visit: Sanibel Island Events, Festivals and Happenings

Some beachcombing humor

Over years of observing people and their behavior on Florida's beaches, especially when it comes to shells and sea glass, we've jokingly started categorized beachcombers:

  • Hunchers or Stoopers: people who walk hunched or stooped over searching diligently for shells and glass. Sanibel Island residents have appropriately given a name to this particular walk; The Sanibel Stoop!
  • Toe flippers: people who don’t want to bend over and pick up the seashell but rather flip the shell over with the toe first to see if the shell is whole or broken.
  • Nonchalanters: people walking or strolling on the beach but will have their eyes pealed and stop in a moments notice to pick up the seashell or sea glass.
  • Can't resisters: Those that are strictly on the beach for exercise. Walking briskly or running and will stop suddenly to pick up that irresistible sea shell.