There’s nothing like strolling the waters edge for treasured mementos of a time well spent. All that is needed is a bucket, a scoop, and respect for local shelling policies.
A law that reigns supreme on Longboat and our other Keys is: “No live-shells.” Shells collected must have no inhabitants, whether dead or alive. The shell must be void of any resident. This is key to the future of shelling for all of us! Disregarding this law will land you a hefty fine from regulation authorities. Sand dollars, star fish and sea urchins are also strictly regulated.
The varieties of shells found on Longboat Key include: Conch, junonia, lightning whelk, cockle, scallop, murex, olive and coquina. Two of Florida’s most famous shells are the Lion’s Paw and the Junonia. Lion’s Paws can be found on both coasts of Florida, but you’ll only find the Junonia on Florida’s West Coast.
The most productive time of day to search for shells is at low tide, when the waves have left their daily deposit. The spring tides are the best, especially during full and new moons, when tides are at their highest and…the lowest. Tides info.
Snorkeling is another means for collecting shells as our shores have very sloping bottoms where shells are plentiful. If you should try snorkeling South Lido’s Bayside, head to the grassy sea beds for glimpses of seahorses and more.
Some folks don’t mind the imperfections of battered shells, but for seekers of unblemished beauties one must don the scuba gear and head to the depths even further from shore.
Where to Go:
The beaches of Longboat are not as populated as some of our other islands so, shells are plentiful and sand dollars are much more common.
Two prime locations would be Beer Can Island and Quick Point Nature Preserve at the southern end of the island. The preserve entrance is near the Chart House restaurant and continues under the bridge and along Sarasota Bay.
The common names of our area’s best-known shells are the angel wing (a clam that burrows deeply in the mud), the banded tulip (a snail shell shaped like an unopened tulip), and the lightning whelk (lightning-like color streaks). You’ll see shore birds nesting on mangrove islands, manatees and their calves grazing the sea grasses (from May through October) and dolphins enjoying the bay’s protected waters for raising their young.
Sarasota Bay Explorers – Offering sea life encounter cruises, guided kayak tours and a nature safari, the staff is friendly and informative on the history and wild life of the bay. The nature safari is (hands on find, your own creatures) while the sea life encounter is for those less interested in touching a creature. The biologist led experience provides interesting information and a cruise on the bay is a spectacular way to spend an afternoon.
Identifying your shells:
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum has a great online shell guide that will help you recognize the various pieces in your collection. To browse shells commonly found in South West Florida, Click: HERE.