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Mastering the Sanibel Stoop - Shelling on Sanibel Island
By []Mark M Washburn

With more then 400 species of shells, the beaches of Sanibel Island off the West Coast of Florida, are considered the best shelling beaches in North America. Not only are shells abundant, but finding coveted species such as the Junonia and Lion's Paw provide excitement for even the most amateur of shellers. Geography is the main contributor to the rich bounty scattered across Sanibel's sugary sands. Unlike other barrier islands, Sanibel is unique in that it runs East to West rather than North to South. The island twists and turns along the coastline rather than making an orderly progression. As a result, the torque of the Island's South end acts as a ladle scooping up the shells the Gulf brings from the Caribbean and other southern seas. Winter storms are particularly beneficial, pushing the shells along the shallow plateau of sand along the Gulf of Mexico to deposit them along the beaches at low tide.

Both Sanibel and its sister island, Captiva, have endured thousands of years of wind and storms to give credence to the claim they are made of shells. Delighted residents frequently unearth perfectly preserved conchs, whelks, and scallops in random digs around their backyards.

The Conch is the most commonly found shell in Sanibel. Conchs and whelks have only a single shell in contrast to species such as clams, scallops, and cockles that live within two hinged shells. The cockle is another shell that frequently washes up on Sanibel beaches. Larger cockles decorate powder rooms across Florida, functioning as a pristine soap dish. Tulip shells with their swirling patterns and delicate bands are popular decorative accents as well. Not surprisingly, shell themes and motifs dominate the shopping experience in Sanibel. The ultimate in "shell-acious" is the lucite toilet seat with shells lacquered into the finish.

Dedicated shellers are known for their "Sanibel stoop," zig-zagging along the beach at low tide, in a bent over position to uncover a treasure. Shuffling the sand with your feet can help dislodge specimens while appearing as an awkward dance to the uninitiated. According to Sanibel lore, the smaller shells are found on the Lighthouse end of the island with the larger ones appearing nearer Captiva and North Captiva.

A perfect compliment to any shell expedition is a visit to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, also located on the island. The museum is devoted to shells of all kinds with the majority of its exhibitions featuring specimens native to Sanibel and Captiva. A well-stocked gift shop allows you to buy the Junonias, Horse Conches, Sand Dollars, Starfish, and other treasures that may have escaped you on the beach.

While Sanibel still lives up to the name, "Costa de Carocles," or Coast of the Seashells, that Ponce De Leon bestowed on the island upon arrival in the 16th century, many shell enthusiasts preach restraint in shell gathering. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift From the Sea wrote while visiting these islands, "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."

Mark Washburn is a real estate agent serving the Greater []Fort Myers area. Mark can assist clients in communities throughout Southwest Florida including Fort Myers, Estero, []Sanibel, Captiva, Cape Coral and Bonita Springs.

Article Source: [] Mastering the Sanibel Stoop - Shelling on Sanibel Island




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