Beaches everywhere have sea life and seashells, but some beaches are better for collecting seashells than others.
The secret to collecting seashells you will want to keep, and display, is twofold. First, figure out what it is you are looking for, in general. Do you want a great big fabulous shell for the coffee table or mantle? Or, are you looking for a bunch of shells to use in a craft project? Maybe you dream of finding a whole sand dollar, or you need more cockle shells for a picture frame.
There are shells that are very common and others that are rare finds. Some people search for years for that special junonia or lion’s paw or other coveted shell. Every vacation to the tropics is partially spent eyeing the beach sand and snorkeling in hopes of getting lucky.
The shell must not be occupied, which further narrows down the availability. Taking seashells that are inhabited is usually against the law. Often empty shells become a home to hermit crabs or some other sea creatures which move in after the mollusk dies. You can’t collect those either.
Obviously if you want to collect special shells, sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins, you should know where to go to find them. There are no guarantees, but it’s a good idea to search where there is a greater possibility of success. Know the laws of the area before you collect anything.
Don’t spend all your time searching at the waters edge. Shells wash up with the tide, so check out the dune area for shells left behind after high tide.
Do your research when planning a vacation, or traveling to a nearby beach. The west coast of Florida is known for it’s wonderful beachcombing opportunities. The Keys also have an abundance of shells, and the water is so clear that it may be the perfect place to easily find a beautiful specimen.
Don’t overlook the small shells either. They can be quite striking as well. Even bits and pieces that belonged to large shells are interesting finds. It’s best to just enjoy the variety and hope for something extraordinary. That’s the fun of shelling.
I’m sure as a seashell collector you’ve seen the typical crafts being made with collected shells. Frame a mirror, or make a wind chime, or cover a little trinket box. But if you find something really special on your beach-combing ventures, why not wear it around your neck so it gets some nice visibility?
A pretty, or rare, seashell or piece of beach glass would make a lovely and unique pendant. Something like that needs to be used in a special and creative way.
I know that jewelry making is popular, and I’ve never made any type of jewelry myself, but it’s something most people can easily learn to do. Buy some wire, in silver, bronze or copper, and watch the Youtube video below – it moves right along, and has pop up text with useful information as you watch the woman create her sea glass pendant. I think you’ll agree that any of us could handle making something like this.
You will need pliers, quality wire, and wire cutters, and of course the special item to be wrapped.
Often we are told to drill shells with a hole to create jewelry, which seems much more difficult. This wire wrapping video is done with a piece of green beach glass, but it could also be used as an example of how to wrap a pretty seashell. A small, spotted junonia hanging around your neck would be such a conversation piece! If you do it, please let me show off a picture of your handiwork here to inspire other readers. Have fun!
Collecting your own sea glass assures you it’s real, but buying on line may give you pause. Is that necklace (with the hefty price tag) made of the real thing?
I may have come across sea glass during my treks to the ocean, but I never paid much attention to it. The kids and I collected seashells only. Jelly fish and horseshoe crabs that had washed up on the beach were interesting, but I don’t recall finding any pretty, worn glass. But there are collectors of sea glass, and they know what to look for. Just like seashells, certain ones (colors) are rare, and therefore demand a higher price. Continue reading Collecting and Buying Real Sea Glass→
One question that arises most often when talking about collecting seashells is, how to clean them. And before we get into that, let me say that I strongly suggest collecting EMPTY, UNOCCUPIED SEASHELLS ONLY. I actually came across an article at a certain site (I will not link to) that tells you how to kill the living animal inside so you can keep the shell. THERE IS NO NEED TO COLLECT SHELLS CONTAINING LIVING CREATURES!! It’s easy enough to find loads of empty seashells. Also, in many areas it’s against the law to collect occupied shells.
Back when the kids were little, when we came home from the beach our pail of shells stayed in the garage for a while. We were busy cleaning off the chairs, cooler and car, so the shells didn’t get cleaned until a later date. I didn’t collect shells to display in my home. They were mostly collected by the kids, and I kept them because that is what moms do – hold onto the children’s treasures. Usually I would put them in the garden outside or in the top of potted plants as decor.
But, if you want to display seashells in the house, or use them in crafts or jewelry making, they do need to be cleaned. Cleaning will bring out the color and prevent unwanted odors.
How I Clean my Seashells
Now that I live near the beach again, I have often collect shells and have been experimenting with cleaning them.
But I’ve found that they really don’t need cleaning. Empty seashells (and the key here is EMPTY) will only need a rinsing or two in plain old water to remove the sand. My shells never smell bad. That will happen if there is something dead inside. Don’t collect living shells and you won’t have that problem!
White shells can be set outside in the sun which will bleach them whiter. Don’t do that with shells that have pretty markings or they will fade. Using bleach, even in tiny amounts, will fade colors too.
So there it is, simple as can be. Rinse your seashell collection in plain old water to remove the sand. Let them dry and display them! Need some ideas on what to do with all those seashells?
How to Tell if a Shell is Occupied or “Alive”
If the mollusk is still inhabiting the shell you want, you will see a flap covering the opening. If you see claws poking out, it’s probably a hermit crab that is using the once empty shell as it’s home. Even if you see nothing at all, place the shell on the ground, or in the boat (wherever you may be) and wait a bit to see if it “walks away”. Hermit crabs can hide way inside the shell and be difficult to spot. Sometimes they can hide for a long time!
Living things can also be attached to the outside of the shell. I once found an enormous horse conch that was no longer home to the mollusk that made it, but weird moving things were attached all over the outside. So I took a photo of the shell and put it back in the water.
If You Do Want to “Clean” the Shells, Here Are Some Tips
When I found a big, uninhabited horse conch (not the same one in the link above), I wanted to see if I could find some pretty colors underneath the blackish coating that was all over it, so I began by soaking it and using a brush to scrub away the black. That cleaning job was ongoing, and I never did get all the black off. It was enough to see the shell beneath which didn’t seem to contain a lot of color anyway. It sits on my kitchen shelf and I think the black coating adds interest.
Ideas for cleaning your seashells usually include soaking them in some sort of solution. Bleach and water – very small amount of bleach – is the common thinking. Shells that are white, or are supposed to be white can withstand a bit more bleach, or a longer soak. But, after trying the bleach thing a few times recently, I have decided NOT to use bleach. Ammonia is stinky but it will clean them without removing their colors.
I would never use anything but water on delicate things like sand dollars and sea urchins.
To bring out the colors on seashells many people apply some mineral oil once they are cleaned. It could leave them oily, and I prefer a natural look, so I usually don’t use that either.
Pam (i love shelling) has a post about using muriatic acid to restore color to shells. She lives on Sanibel Island so just imagine the shell collection! Her post claims the solution will restore color to a ruined or calcium covered shell. But, the acid is dangerous stuff and caution is required when using. As an acid, it eats away the unwanted covering and reveals the colors underneath. Personally, I will never use it.
If you know of a good way to clean shells, please leave a comment. Happy beachcombing!
At Christmas time many families like to decorate their tree with some homemade ornaments. A coastal or southern lifestyle will usually include trips to the beach and all those seashells can be used as home decor as well as ornaments. Just use a little imagination and you can use your beach shells in crafts and activities for the kids.