I have been wanting to visit Sanibel Island since we moved to Central Florida over a year ago and we finally made it. It is the best shelling beach in the US – third best in the world (some place in the Philippines is the best followed by South Africa, if you were curious)
We arrived at the Waterside Inn – a great little retro beach cabin resort – on Sunday in plenty of time to watch the sunset on the beach and pick up a few shells – speaking of which I have never seen so many shells….. You have to understand, growing up in Ireland where the seas shells were either black, grey or white and came in two basic shapes, the idea that beautiful, colorful shells in a multitude of exotic shapes would just be laying around underfoot is mind-blowing!
I few months ago I bought a large glass vase that I wanted to fill with shells I pick up from the beaches now that we are new Floridians, but to be truthful it is currently pretty pitiful looking. Even though we go to the beach often on the Atlantic side there haven’t been that many shells – the waves seem to be rougher and pound those shells into sugar fine sand. On Sanibel Island, I picked up more shells in 15 minutes than I have picked up in the past year!
So like a couple of crazy people, Eric and I got up the next day at low tide to go shell hunting – may I add that low tide was at 6.30am – BEFORE DAWN!!!! Amazingly enough there were people already out there with flashlights, so I guess we weren’t the only loons on the beach.
In fact someone was way more alert and creative than I will ever be before dawn and I almost fell over their handiwork…
We came prepared with a divers mesh bag to put our shells in, which I thought was genius till I saw other people out there with not only the same bags, but also a little mesh net thing on a stick – dammit! I soon discovered why…. After several hours performing what the local have dubbed “The Sanibel Stoop” (people stumbling along with backs bent and noses on the ground) I discovered that how quickly it turned into “The Sanibel Screaming Spine” Those smug smartypants with their nets on sticks. I must get one to be taken seriously as a true shell hunter…
Eric waded into the shallows and found the bigger heavier shells which tumble in and out with the waves and I walked along the tide line picking up the smaller ones – before we knew it we had walked several miles and were carrying about 10lbs of shells.
It was a beautiful morning we watched the dolphins and pelicans playing, I found a crazy leopard print crab, we jostled for space with the tide birds and watched the day begin.
We collected several fist sized conchs and about a million colorful scallop shells that I later discovered are called Calico scallops. We ended up going to the local shell museum – yes there is such a thing! – where we picked up a book to identify our new collection and I discovered, to my disappointment, that the weird tangled masses on the beach were not the entrails of disemboweled sea beasts but actually egg casings from the conchs and whelks – I still prefer my explanation but oh well….
Eric got some bait for surf fishing (shrimp so big I would have called them lunch) and we also scored a couple of the nets on sticks that I was so envious of.
I now have the complete shell hunting kit – another mesh bag so we don’t have to share, nets on sticks, water shoes (those shells are tough on the feet), laminated shell identification and beverage of choice in a colorful koozie. Not pictured but also recommended – sunscreen, polarized sunglasses and embarrassing pink sunhat. I wear mine with pride and it makes it easier for Eric to spot me on the beach LOL
We walked the beach for hours, twice a day picking up lightning whelks, Florida fighting conchs, calico scallops and clams, kitten paws and spiny jewel boxes to name just a few… Eric caught a sting ray while fishing and even found a sea urchin in his net one day.
Sometimes even the broken pieces were too beautiful to leave behind – the intricate internal structure of a shell is natures’s finest example of the fibonnachi sequence if you ask me. On our last beach walk of the trip I went to pick up what I thought was a fragment only to dig up the biggest conch find of the day – it was just covered in sand and everyone had been walking right past it – I was delighted!
I also learned that I cannot resist a calico clam – my eye is drawn to them and despite having approx 8 million of them now, I kept picking them up – big, small, endless variants of colorful markings…. Maybe it is because it is a classic shell shape used in design and decoration since the beginning of time – it is, after all, the shell Venus stood on when she rose from the waves in the famous painting. Perhaps it is hardcoded into my brain as a symbol of beauty? Who knows – I just can’t seem to leave them behind – they belong in my glass container with all of their pretty friends – they would be lost and lonely otherwise. This kind of thought process may also provide insight as to why I have 4 dogs *sigh*
Regardless “All your shells are belong to us” LOL – Once home I filled that giant glass container with shells to spare >8)
The rest of the time I sat on the beach reading while Eric fished and we watched the sun set before heading back to our room to pore over the day’s finds. Truthfully you don’t even need to walk to find beautiful shells – plonk yourself down by the tideline and sift through the the heaps of shells at your fingertips and you will find a million tiny treasures. But there is something addictive about seeing what is just ahead and something very timeless about waiting to see what the next wave will wash in…