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Hoover shells out answers to common questions

By Staff | Apr 17, 2009

Three of the most common shelling questions asked by Museum visitors are:

n How, when, and where are shells found?

n What can be done to eliminate shell odors?

n Is there a way to pack shells so they arrive at their final destination in one piece?

We discovered we weren’t the only islanders responding to these questions. Hoteliers, store owners, airport visitor center volunteers and volunteers at the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce report similar experiences.

In response to the identified need, the Museum produced a shelling tip sheet. One side of the document displays photographs of Southwest Florida’s most common shells and the reverse side includes shelling tips.

This week’s column deals with question number one.

Finding Shells

n Best time of the day to find shells is the first low tide of the day. There is a window of opportunity from one hour before low tide to one hour after low tide. Remember, collecting live shells in Lee County is prohibited.

n Best days of the month are during the new moon and the full moon.

n Storms create a haven of treasures, especially when the winds are out of the North or Northwest.

n Many shells are found right below the surface of the sand. Telltale bubbles indicate that a creature waits below.

n Tidal pools are a haven for marine life. Check under rocks, logs, driftwood, and in “clumps” of seaweed. Be sure to return the habitat to the state in which you found it. Intertidal sand and mud flats are great for burrowing mollusks and sea snails.

n As a mollusk moves, a trail may be left behind. Look for “tracks” in the sand.

n Snorkeling during low tide is a great way to collect shells that are in good condition. Explore pilings of bridges or wharfs.

n Wade out into the water during the low tide. Shuffle your feet. “Feel” for shells with your toes.

n Look along the tide line characterized by “shell grit.” Use a sieve to identify treasures.

n In mangrove areas check around the tree roots.

n Check out large piles of shells at the high tide line. Don’t assume they’ve already been “picked over.”

n Shallow water right at the tide line is great for finding small shells. A sieve can be used to separate the “grit” from great finds.

n If you don’t find shells on one beach try another area of the island.

n Useful tools of the trade: mesh collection bag, small shovel, magnifying glass, snorkeling gear, metal sieve, “shell scooper” net, small rake, pocket knife, field notebook, waterproof pen, small plastic bags, and a lightweight backpack.