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Collecting the best shells on sanibel dos and donts

Collecting the Best Shells on Sanibel: Do’s and Don’ts

Bringing home a little bit of Sanibel with you will provide memories to last a life time!
My hesitation to concentrate on the shelling in writing about Sanibel is that everyone knows that fact. Sanibel is considered one of the three best places in the entire world to go shelling. Although it is in third place, the first two, the Pacific Islands and Africa are a little remote for the majority of visitors who come to Sanibel. So Sanibel attracts shell collectors from all over the country and as well as outside of the country.
While there are many, many things that distinguish Sanibel Island as a resort vacation destination, it is undeniable that the quality of shelling sets it apart.
It is also worth mentioning that many of Sanibel’s shells are simply works of art.  A fruitful day on the beach is not just entertaining, it is a treasure hunt that can result in a wonderful find.
But first the treasure hunter needs to be prepared to make the most of the shelling experience and protect the shells found and gathered.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that live shells are not allowed in your shell collection. Because seashells are important to the islands’ chain of life, and because Sanibel and Captiva are refuge islands where all life is considered precious, the State of Florida has outlawed the collecting of live shells on the island. “Live shell” is defined as any specimen containing an inhabitant, whether or not the mollusk seems alive. The law also protects sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins. All shelling is prohibited in J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Aside from avoiding collecting live shells, it is best for the Island ecology not to try to remove buckets of shells from the beaches. It is also best for you. Not only are the shells an example of your cup runneth over when you arrive home with lots of shells and no where to keep them, shell collections are best viewed as “less is more”. In the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of famed aviator, Charles Lindbergh, the shells of Sanibel and Captiva should be viewed as individual pieces: “One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.”
There are few places in the world where you can bring home such beauty from a vacation, and all for free!
So with a cautionary and conservation philosophy in mind, here are the essentials of shell collecting:
Be Prepared. Bring a bucket, a net bag and a scoop, and plenty of sun lotion as well as a hat if it is a hot, sunny day (as most days are on Sanibel!).
Shell at low tide preferably and after a storm to find the maximum number of shells and maximum variety.
Soak shells in a 50/50 solution of water and bleach, few hours or overnight. If any barnacles or other matter is left remove with a pick or toothbrush. To make shells shine wipe with mineral oil or baby oil.
You may collect sand dollars but first check to make sure that the sand dollar is not alive – turn it over – there are little centipede feet up and down the backside – gently touch them with your finger to see if they move and its alive. If alive gently place back into the water and if they do not move, then you have just found one of the islands treasures!
To bleach a sand dollar white it is important to soak in fresh water first. Water will be a brownish color, change water frequently until fairly clear or just continually flush with water until water stays fairly clear. Soak in a 50/50 solution of bleach and water for 5-10 minutes. Do not soak too long in bleach solution as sand dollar may crumble. Rinse throughly, let dry preferably in sun to bleach further. To harden sand dollar for crafts or display: Mix equal portions of white glue and water. With paint brush cover sand dollar with mixture. Let dry.
As mentioned in a much earlier blog post, Sanibel Island is renowned for its great shelling. The phrase “Sanibel Stoop” refers to the many people you will see all year long bent over collecting shells from the beach.

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