Shelling on Sanibel Island, FL
One of the most pristine places for finding seashells in Florida is none other thanSanibel Island, located just offshore from Ft. Myers, Florida on the Gulf Coast. Just twenty-five to thirty miles northwest of Naples, FL lies the breathtaking and beautiful Sanibel Island. Here on this sub-tropical island are plush, white sandy beaches brimming full of beautiful shells, what I call "the jewels of the gulf." Here, are a wide variety of shells, sand dollars, and sea urchins washed ashore on beaches that are not highly trafficked by people. Although, during the high tourist season, February through April, on Sanibel Island, the beaches are still rather sparsely populated and inhabited. Here, a leisurely walk on the beach can garnish many beautiful and unusual shells that are quite numerous in size and variety.
Sanibel Island is a barrier island which means it is a collection of sand on the leeward side of the Gulf Stream off from the more solid coral-rock of Pine Island. The gulf side beaches are excellent for shelling on both sides of the island. Beaches extend nearly all around the island on every side and each beach is a treasure trove of recently washed up shells from the most recent tide.
The Sanibel Island beaches are literally world renowned for the variety of seashells found there: coquinas, scallops, whelks, sand dollars and other species of both shallow-water and deeper water mollusks.
Remember, mollusks are shells that have their skeletons on the outside of their bodies and are made of hard calcium. People flock to Sanibel Island to hunt and gather these seashells. The reason the beaches of Sanibel Island are so great for shelling is because there are large quantities of seashells that wash up here. As mentioned before, Sanibel Island is a barrier island which has an "east-west orientation" when most other islands are north-south. Therefore, because of the east-west orientation, the island has great white sandy beaches and an abundance of shells.
Sanibel is a large plateau that extends out into the Gulf of Mexico and this plateau acts like a shelf for seashells to gather. And, gather they do. You can see many people on the beach doing what is called the "Sanibel stoop" which is the position of bending down and/or over to look for sea shells. This famous moniker is used quite frequently on Sanibel Island and everyone there has perfected their "Sanibel stoop."
The city of Sanibel makes up the entire island, with most of the city proper at the east end of the island. There are beautiful hotels, resorts, and low-rise condos built on the beaches of Sanibel on the western side of the island and the entire island still retains its quaintness and small town feel. Although traffic is horrendous during the tourist season, the natives and snow birds of the island, mostly use bicycles to traverse around the island.
Sanibel and Captiva formed as one island nearly 6,000 years ago. Today, a short bridge links Sanibel Island to Captiva Island over Blind Pass. Sanibel Island's curved shrimp-like shape forms Tarpon Bay on the north side of the island. The island is linked to the mainland by the Sanibel Causeway, originally built in 1963, and recently enlarged in 2000. The Gulf side beaches on both islands are some of the most beautiful in Florida.
Besides seashells, there are a few other things to see on the island. There is the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. It is the only museum in the world dedicated entirely to the study of shells. They take their sea shells seriously here on Sanibel Island. The wildlife of the island has also been preserved on the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Here are several, miles of walking and bicycle trails through some of the most plush sub-tropical island vegetation and forestation you will ever see.
There is also the Sanibel Lighthouse at Lighthouse Beach, on the east side of the island. Here is a modern lighthouse and nearby a small pier and walking paths through the vegetation between the edge of the beach and the road.
When visiting Sanibel Island, I recommend, at the least, one day shelling at the various island beaches. There is not a bad beach on the island. I also recommend, at least one day bicycling around the island to get acquainted with it. And, I recommend at least a third day, bicycling and/or hiking the trails through the Darling National Wildlife Refuge. If you are a nature lover, there is so much to see and do on this island and the slow pace of the "island life" is wonderful to experience. I could spend weeks and months on Sanibel Island and never be bored.
My seashell collection continues to grow and flourish between the beaches of Naples, FL and Sanibel Island, FL. This is a great place to start your shell collection, because of the beauty and variety of shells found in this area. Naples and Sanibel Island are the best and most abundant places in the entire state to go shelling, bird watching, nature hiking and biking. And the windsurfing isn't bad either!
- Seashells by the Seashore - Naples, Florida
Naples, Florida comes in again as the best place to find "jewels of the gulf", seashells and other sea life with shells that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico.