On a visit to the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s west coast, you may not come away with diamonds and emeralds. But if you come at the right time, you will definitely find treasure. Beginning in December, Gulf storms decorate Sanibel Island’s 12 miles of beaches and the neighboring island parks with lightning whelks, dainty Scotch bonnets, starfish, clams, banded tulips, apple murex, horse conchs and patterned calico scallops. For optimum results,head out about an hour and a half before low tide, and then watch for the new or full moon or fierce winds that will be washing seashells ashore from the Gulf.
But the beaches aren’t the only places worth scouring for shells. Find beautifully crafted antique shell valentines made by Caribbean ladies for sailors to take back to their sweethearts at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. To see the ancient remnants of a shell mound dating back a thousand years when Calusa Indians occupied the area, hike the Shell Mound Trail in the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge. For the shell seeker, island hopping brings fresh rewards. Join Mike Fuery, a shelling charter captain based on adjoining Captiva Island, for a guided tour to Cayo Costa State Park. Spend three hours on the preserve’s deserted beaches trying to collect the 180 different varieties that Feury says wash up here on any given day. Be it the crevices of a horse conch or maybe a delicate seashell fragment, the treasures awaiting on Sanibel this time of year are endless.
- PICK UP shells that have had a chance to mature. Stiff fines await collectors with live shells in their booty bags.
- BOOK a tour with Capt. Mike Fuery on nearby Cayo Costa so that you know what you’re gathering. mikefuerystours.com
- STAY at the Island Inn, where guests are summoned to dinner by the blowing of a conch shell. islandinnsanibel.com
- LEARN MORE at fortmyers-sanibel.com.