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Shelling in Southwest Florida- Southwest Florida Charters

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

Southwest Florida, specifically Sanibel Island and Captiva Island, is considered the best shelling spot in North America. Sanibel Island and Captiva Island are heavily protected. There are restrictions on events held on the beaches and how much you can disturb the beaches/animals on the island. This helps preserve the natural habitats created on the beach.

Typically we have some great shells wash up onto the shoreline naturally. After a huge storm (with west/ northwest winds), these storms create the perfect conditions to go shelling! The shape of Sanibel and Captiva Island helps with the natural collection of shells with the west/ northwesterly winds.

We always recommend going during low tide. The best time to go is during the evening or early morning since fewer people will be out and about. However, you will still find shells on the beaches even during the afternoon and high traffic times. Hardcore shellers will usually go as early (or as late) as 3AM in the morning to avoid foot traffic. Just make sure you are abiding by Sanibel and Captiva laws, especially the Turtle Nesting season guidelines.

Photo Credit: SWFL Charters, LLC
Assorted Shells on a Captiva Beach; includes Sharks Eye, Gaudy Nautica, Lightning Welk, Turkey Wing, Sand Dollars, Florida Fighting Conch, Banded Tulip, Apple Murex. Photo Credit: SWFL Charters, LLC

Nutmeg (left) and Lace Murex Shell (right) Photo Credit: SWFL Charters, LLC

Turtle Nesting season on Sanibel runs officially from April 15th to October 31st. Usually Loggerheads and Green Turtles will start nesting along the shores of Sanibel and Captiva. During this time, amber colored/ red light must be used so it does not disturb and confuse any of the hatching baby sea turtles. The theory is any lighting brighter than red will confuse the baby turtles. Baby sea turtles will have a tendency to head towards the brightest direction. This is usually the view of the night sky over the Gulf. The reflection of the moon lit sky helps them orient themselves. The glare of artificial light is sometimes confusing so that is why it is important to use the red light when shelling!

Baby Sea Turtle Credit: SantivaChronical

Shells are a great souvenir after an awesome vacation on the beaches and fishing on the water. Even locals can’t help themselves when amazing shells wash up onto the shoreline. People definitely will catch us doing the “Sanibel Stoop,” or when people bend at the waist to retrieve a seashell. This is such a commonplace occurrence that there is a name for this action! Having a shell scooper would help out so you don’t have to bend over so frequently. Most stores (even grocery stores) in Southwest Florida will have scoopers sold in stores.

Gaudy Nautica Photo Credit: SWFL Charters, LLC

Three Scotch Bonnets and a Lace Murex Shell Photo Credit: SWFL Charters, LLC

One more regulation to consider is no live shells can be picked up! Make sure you are checking your shells as you pick them up. The first difference you will notice is that live shells will be quite heavy! Another difference between a live shell and an empty uninhabited shell will be that the shell is blocked/covered by an organism. The two most common organisms will be shells original animal or a hermit crab. The picture below shows a great example of a lot of live Florida Horse Conchs. These shells all have their original animal still residing in the shell (you can see an orange colored “snail” poking out of the shell).

Live Horse Conchs on Sanibel Beach Photo Credit: SWFL Charters, LLC

Our busy season historically starts in the second week of February and we have noticed a lot of people wanting to do Combo trips! Our Combo trips entail some sort of fun activity for the group, usually shelling and fishing) and then lunch at one of the restaurants around the area. Cabbage Key, Tarpon Lodge, the Waterfront are a few we usually stop by but if you have any wishes to stop by a particular restaurant, just let us know days before the trip!

Gopher Tortoise on Cabbage Key Photo Credit: SWFL Charters, LLC

We will work with trying to accommodate your wishes and also set up a comfortable trip that will usually target what you want to do on your vacation! Usually with families with younger kids, shelling trips during the Combo trips are the best. This allows the adults to relax or join in the fun shelling activities as the kids explore the beaches and find awesome shells or actual live organisms in the shoreline.

Young Explorer found a large Sea Star on Captiva Beaches; Returned to the water immediately Photo Credit: SWFL Charters, LLC

Live Sea Urchin; returned immediately after photo Photo Credit: SWFL Charter, LLC

Fishing opportunities during the Combo Trips. Families love them! Check out this giant Sheepshead! Photo Credit: SWFL Charter, LLC

Booking a trip with Southwest Florida Charters will take you out to some of the beaches that are not easily accessible by car/walking. Most of these beaches with excellent shells need to be embarked by boat. If you are interested in booking a Combo trip, book with us online or call us at 239-222-0813. We'd love to take you out on an adventure!

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