Tag Archives: beachcombing

beach sand at low tide

Collecting New Types of Shells in a Deserted Area

Our beaches on the East coast of Florida are not as well known for shell collecting as they are over on the Gulf Coast. Visit Sanibel Island and you are likely to go home with a fabulous assortment of beautiful seashells.

We have to work harder to find shells on the East coast beaches, and then, many shells are the same. Arks, clams and coquina shells can usually be collected in the New Smryna Beach area.  But, travel off the beaten path – out to the islands and backwater – and it’s possible to find something more unique.  Only boats can reach this place, and tourists don’t come out here.  It’s the best part of Florida.

beach sand at low tide
An island created by low tide

We took the boat out toward Ponce Inlet and stopped at a sandy island which appears when the tide is out.  The water was just beginning to come back in when we dropped anchor in the shallow water.

I love to be out here, away from people… as you can see, we had the place to ourselves.  It helped that the weather forecast was cloudy with possible storms – and it was the middle of the week.  Most boaters stayed home….lucky us.

Across the waterway, to the left of this photo (above), is Disappearing Island.  It’s like this place, only larger, and the name says it all.  At high tide these islands “disappear” beneath the ocean, with only some of the scrub trees left above the waterline – or so I think.   I’ve never been here at high tide.

I waded ashore and began to scour the shoreline, searching in all that grass, hoping to find a cool shell.

seashells in marsh grass
I found most of these shells up along this grassy edge of the island.

I found a lot of large clams, partially buried in the sand. In fact, most of the shells were either whole, or pieces of big clams.   Also the Southern quahogs were numerous, which are white with vertical lines along the shell.

clam shell in sand
Big clam shell buried in sand

But I did find a nice Dosinia shell. It’s the flat, roundish shell at the bottom of the photo below.  I also happened upon that cute little shark’s eye which was partially buried.  It was pure luck that I noticed it!  I’ve come across much bigger ones, but they always have a hermit crab inside.

I do collect broken shells, because they are unique in their own way.  In my photo below you can see a broken crown conch… if it was whole, there would be a hermit crab inside, no doubt.  Crown conchs are everywhere in areas like this, but they are always inhabited.  (I found a live Fighting Conch, and hermit crab inside a little shell I couldn’t identify.  More to come about those, on a later post.)

Florida seashells
Broken Crown conch, mussel, clam, tagelus, dosinia, little shark’s eye, and tiny marsh periwinkles (one sits on top of a penny).

The little shark’s eye shell (below) has a hole drilled into the side. That is how the mollusk inside was killed. Something came along and bored into the shell to eat what was inside. The thing is, Shark’s eyes ARE predatory, and this guy would have done the same to another shell!

 

tiny sharks eye and periwinkle
Tiny Seashells (and a penny)

As the water came up, I headed up onto the sandy dune area to search among the scrub brush.  I wondered if I’d find some sort of seashell treasure up there.

And I did!  This is where I found those three little white Marsh Periwinkles (photo above) – or at least I think that is what they are.  They were all found close together and nothing was inside except sand, so I picked them up.  I’ve never seen these before, so I had new shells for my collection.  Nice….  I had to be careful not to lose them, as they are tiny!

mourning dove in sand
Mourning Dove

I found some trash, of course, and what looked like an old campfire pit, and saw some mourning doves – that was a surprise!  I really thought that all I would see were shore birds.

I came across the remains of a coconut.  It had traveled from the mainland or beach peninsula, because there were no coconut palm trees on that island.

coconut shell
Remains of a coconut, with partial outer and inner shell.

We left later in the day when the clouds were thickening up. The water had come in quite a bit by then. Soon the all that sand would be covered, until the tide began it’s journey back out to the sea.

I wonder what treasures it will leave behind.  Can’t wait to return here.

marshland island florida
Looking toward the Ocean, with a view of high-rise condos beach-side.
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east coast florida beach shells

Take A Closer Look When Seashell Collecting

If you are not a regular beach-walker and seashell collector, it may seem that the good seashells (usually we think they will be big too) will be easy to find.  If only you find them first.   But heading to the right beach, at the right time, is not all it takes to find unique and wonderful shells.  Often a closer look at the sand beneath your feet will give up surprises.

In my photo below, it seems as if there are few shells here to find.  But that is not true.  All the seashells in my photo (next one down) were collected in one day here.  But I had to look closely, and I picked up a lot of stuff I didn’t want, in order to find them.  I also walked back and forth along the breakers more than once.

Screen Shot 2017-04-14 at 9.56.39 AM
The water was gorgeous, but it was very windy with rough seas

As I walked the beach at Ponce Inlet yesterday afternoon, I didn’t see many people looking down at the sand. Most people were hanging out in chairs, or walking and talking, or in the water fishing. It occured to me that searching for unique shells takes some intense looking. I had to closely scan the sand around me in order to collect some unique, smaller keepers.  It made me wonder if anyone ever looks closely at the shells beneath their feet.  I know they would scramble to pick up a whole starfish or sand dollar, but I doubt many people give much thought to other inconspicuous shells, or the creatures who made them.

 

The beach was full of shells, with more being exposed as the tide went out quickly. Most were the commonly found arks and cockle shells. They are thick bivalves, which make them easy to find in one piece. Don’t get me wrong, they are nice looking, but can be found all over this area. I was looking for something that would be relatively rare to add to my collection.

My sons and I spent nearly three hours on the beach, fishing and beachcombing (they fished), and today my back aches from the constant bending and standing. Who knew that shell collecting could be a workout?

I found many beautiful shells, and a few I have not collected before. Unfortunately the surf is rough and finding whole shells is difficult. So I collected some shells that were nearly whole, knowing that I may never find a perfect specimen.

east coast florida beach shells
The collection, pre-washing

A few of the shells I found were easy to see, just beneath the waves, or stuck in the soft sand. The big, white Angelwings immediately attracted my attention, and although pieces were missing along the tops, I took them home.

I also brought home three Channeled Duckclams, which I see a lot, but are always broken. Usually I only find bits and pieces not worth collecting. Yesterday I did take the big broken ones. Their shells are thin, like the Angelwings, so finding a perfect shell is tough.

Other shells that were fairly easy to find were the black ones. Black stands out against the beach sand, and against the others. Happily, most of the black shells I went for ended up being Jingle Shells! One black shell was a piece of what looks like a whelk of some kind, but I loved finding all those jingle shells.

But some of the most awesome shells I came across were very small and could only be found by looking closely at the sand. They blended in with all those arks, but every now and then something different would catch my eye. It helps to know a little about seashells. They are not all the same, although at first glance they may seem to be.

I was able to add two Dosinia shells to my bag. I love the feel of their smooth flat surface. And I rarely see them. A little gray sharks eye was sitting on the sand, and although it was broken, I collected it. I’ve found big beautiful sharks eye shells while out boating but they are always inhabited by hermit crabs.

Other unique (to me) shells were the Stout tagelus, slipper shells, cross-barred venus, a black scallop, and two lettered olives (one alive).  And I found some things that have baffled me.  I’m still researching photos in my seashell book, Florida’s Living Beaches, to discover what they are.

As I write about each of the shells I found, I will link back to this page so you can click to see the photos of the shells.

Shells I Found on New Smyrna Beach

sharks eye seashell on the beach in florida
Sharks Eye Shell with Mollusk

I took advice from the research I’ve done about shelling and pocketed some little seashells from my recent trip to New Smyrna Beach.

I found living mollusks inside their shells, like this little shark’s eye shell, which I photographed and left alone.  There were only a few shells down by the water, so I did my searching up near the dune line where high tide may have deposited some goodies.

We went onto the beach at the Flagler Ave. entrance and headed north to park the car.  I saw a few sea turtle nests roped off with yellow tape, up near the dune area where cars are not allowed.  After swimming and boogie boarding for a bit, I took a break from the water and went in search of treasures at the high tide line. Continue reading Shells I Found on New Smyrna Beach

florida horse conch

How to Clean Seashells Controversy

large crown conch
Large Crown Shell dirty and broken

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.

If the mollusk is still inhabiting it, you will see a flap covering the opening. If you see red 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.  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.

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.

cleaning horse conch

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.

Be careful with delicate shells like the sand dollar, starfish and urchins.

To bring out the colors on seashells many people apply some mineral oil once they are cleaned.

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.  I will never use it.

If you know of a good way to clean shells, please leave a comment. Happy beachcombing!

sharks eye

Does Collecting Seashells Really Harm Beaches?

Don’t you feel guilty about collecting seashells? Apparently some people think you should.

Atlantic Giant cockle shells

When I found this article entitled, “Hey Tourists: Leave Those Shells on The Beach Would Ya?” at the Care2.com site, I had to read it.  And then I shook my head.
After all, I write about collecting seashells and that post is saying it is not a good idea.  But what is the reasoning behind this?  Well, I read that tourism to beaches has increased so much that the collecting of seashells is in danger of hampering the coastline.  Shells that could be used by hermit crabs as homes, and by sea birds as nesting material (huh?), and in beach stabilization.  Okay, the study was done over a 30 year period on beaches in the Mediterranean, where tourism to the coast has increased three fold.

Sorry folks but I find it incredibly hard to believe that tourists are collecting THAT many seashells and taking them back home.  How much room do you leave in your suitcase for shells when you take a vacation to the shore?  And even if they are significantly hoarding shells, these are most likely empty shells.  What about the living organisms that are dredged up with fishing nets, and selected for food, and sold in shops?  These are the ones doing the most damage, not a simple vacationer.

east coast florida beach shells
Seashells and beach finds along the east coast of Florida

Also the damage done to the coast from building, driving on the sand and polluting the water has to be much greater.  And the study says that this was mainly a way to account for shell loss due to beachcombing, and nothing else.  But it definitely places the most blame on tourists.  In fact it is titled: Vanishing Clams on an Iberian Beach: Local Consequences and Global Implications of Accelerating Loss of Shells to TourismRead the whole study here.

So do we see negative effects from shell collecting?  I haven’t heard of any.  Just a doomsday story about how tourists are silently wrecking the beaches.  What I find incredibly typical is that all the comments after the “Hey Tourists” post have people apologizing for shelling, and promising to never do it again.  Lemmings.
Go ahead and take a few (unoccupied) shells home people… good grief.