Collecting Seashells in Florida

Sea Shells

When the sea and sand beckon, beachcombing to find seashells is always a fun adventure. It's never a problem to find beaches in Florida that are good for shelling; Honeymoon Island in Tampa, Anclote Island in Tampa Bay, Amelia Island a little north of Jacksonville, and Little Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville are particularly popular destinations for many tourists hunting for seashells. This is a popular hobby for those living in one of the many beachfront Florida high-rise condo buildings.  Those residents and their families can walk out their front door right into the sand and start searching for seashells.  Anyone who wants to begin collecting seashells can learn about them first by visiting museums that exhibit shells. When you plan to hunt for seashells in Florida, you'll also need to learn about state laws that restrict the kinds of shells you can collect. For instance, Florida prohibits the collecting and possession of live queen conch shells at any time, but if you find a queen conch shell that's empty, you can collect it.

What Is a Shell?

A shell is made of calcium carbonate, and it shelters mollusks, which are soft-bodied animals. The shell is actually the exoskeleton of a creature such as an oyster, clam, or snail. Seashells grow by adding material at the edges. Because mollusks don't shed their exoskeleton, their shells have to get bigger to accommodate body growth. This process will create distinct shell layers; the newest parts of a shell will be along the edge. When the animal dies and doesn't occupy the shell any longer, another creature might move in to live there. It's not unusual to pick up a shell on the beach and find something living in it.

Shell Collecting Equipment Guide

To make the most of a beachcombing excursion, pack some equipment to take with you to the sand. A small shovel will help you dig effectively in wet sand. A long-handled scoop will allow you to scoop up large amounts of sand and shells without getting too wet. Bring along a mesh screen so you can shake excess sand and mud from shells and a bucket or cloth bag to hold your shell treasures. A field guide book for seashells will help you identify the shells you find. It's also helpful to pack sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunscreen to protect you from the sun. If bugs will be bothersome, dress in long pants and long sleeves.

Cleaning and Storing Shells

Always check your shells to ensure that they don't contain animal life. If you find something living in a shell, put it back where you found it. Soak empty shells in a solution of water and bleach. Monitor the soaking process, and drain the shells after an hour or two when they look sufficiently clean. If you still see crusts or barnacles on the shells, use an old toothbrush to scrape away the debris. Boil the shells in hot water for several minutes, then remove them from the water. Allow the shells to dry completely, and then rub them with mineral oil to create a shine. Store your shells in a container or cabinet.

Shell Collecting Times

Hunting for seashells is best when you time your excursions to coincide with the tides. A beach at low tide in the morning or evening will usually be a good place to find a pleasing array of shells on the sand. Another good time to hunt for shells is soon after a storm has passed through, since the winds will have pushed lots of big waves toward the shore, bringing shells with them. Check the calendar to learn the current moon phases, too: Tides are the most dramatic during new and full moons, so you'll likely find the most shells if you beachcomb at this time.

Helpful Resources for Shell Collectors

Written by Brian Enright



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