The Beginner’s Guide to Shelling in Southwest Florida

In case you missed it, Sanibel is known as the shelling capital of the world. Located on the Gulf side of Florida is this beachcomber’s paradise. What makes Sanibel so unique? Its beaches are protected by an underwater shelf creating gentle currents that wash ashore some of the most beautiful shells you will ever lay your eyes on. Essentially, these shelves scoop the shells (say that 10x fast) and deliver them to you almost in perfect condition.

People from all around the world come to Sanibel and Captiva specifically to give shelling a go. The current is constantly presenting new shells from the Gulf and the Caribbean.

Best time to shell

Okay so now you’re ready to book the trip to discover hidden treasures of the ocean. Like all destination activities, there is a season to go to experience it to the fullest. For shelling in Sanibel and Captiva Islands, the best month to go is January. Book your excursion according to the tide too! Low tide is when the seashells are more visible. Don’t forget to pay attention to the moon, after all that is what changes the tides! Full and new moons are rumored to produce an abundance of shells. Another good time to go is after a Gulf storm- when the current and the waves are so strong the shells can’t help but be washed to shore.

Ft. Myers

How to shell

Shelling is easy! Bring a bucket, net bag and scoop. Or, if you’re like me, ditch the scoop and just use your hands to uncover hidden gems on the beach. A scoop is better for when you’re shelling in shallow water. Pro tip: wear shoes when shelling. I learned the hard way. Some shells are sharp making it uncomfortable to walk.

Please be conscientious when shelling. Shells are an important part of the ecosystem here, so important that Florida State Law prohibits the shelling of live shells. You may be thinking “but it’s just a shell.” And while yes it is a shell, there might still be a living organism inside. Sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins are also protected under this law.

Sanibel Island

Shell types

Shells come in all shapes and sizes! Keep your expectations low and you will be pleasantly surprised with what you find! There are so many different types of shells you can stumble upon including: Conchs, Lighting Whelk, Scallops, Coquina, and the coveted Junonia. Coveted? Yep. If you find one of these rare, deep-water loving shells you’ll get your name and photograph in the local paper! Unfortunately, I didn’t find one of these. But I did find conchs, mollusks and so many other kinds of shells!

Fun fact: seashells come in two types: gastropod and bivalve. The gastropods are categorized by having on sell, these are conchs and whelks. Bivavlves have two hinged shells that act as doors or walls to protect the organism, these are clams and scallops.

Florida Fighting Conch

Cayo CostaAn assortment of mollusks and conchs!

Cayo Costa

Shelling locations

Fort Myers Beach
Lighthouse Beach, Sanibel
Bowman’s Beach, Sanibel
Captiva Beach
Cayo Costa


This post is written in partnership with The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel however, as always, all opinions are my own.


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