The Rules About Collecting Seashells in Florida

Sometimes a reader asks about the legal side of seashell collecting here in Florida. I’ll be honest and I never really thought much about it. I know from living near the East coast of the state, I never heard anything about shell-collecting rules. It could be because my area simply does not have many shells along the public beach. No one really gives them much thought.

Rule #1. Never collect anything that is alive. A shell filled with something (mollusk or crab) is a home to that animal. Leave it where you found it.

Pen Shell

These days when you pass the beach ramp stands and pay your way, the person in the booth lists off the beach rules. Drive slow, windows down, radio off, trash in the cans, stay off the dunes, etc. – something to that effect. She says nothing about collecting seashells.

My own personal rule has always been not to collect anything living. Taking a living creature away from it’s ocean habitat will kill it. That, to me, is common sense. I’ve come across some beautiful shells I would love to have collected, but photos will do nicely. Take a lot of them and then say good-bye.

Often I have taken some fun photos of the creature inside the shells too, as was the case when we found big horse conchs on offshore islands while boating.

broken whelk on the beach
Broken whelk on the beach at Ponce Inlet

The Laws on Sea Shell Collecting

Read this page at FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) entitled “Recreational Sea Shell Collecting” says in part that a Florida saltwater fishing license is required to keep any living seashells collected anywhere, including onshore.

So this sounds as if I could keep living shells, because I have a fishing license. I wouldn’t want to, and there are exclusions that apply in certain counties.

Also state parks may be governed by their own rules, but I have never read anything about seashells and collecting them. To be safe, always check the rules for the specific park before you visit.

Prohibited Sea Life

The Bahama Starfish and Queen Conch are always prohibited, unless the Queen conch shell is already empty. It’s unlikely you would find this shell just sitting on the beach! I’ve seen video from the Bahamas where people dive down and collect the queen conchs to pull the meat out and eat. Conch is something served in restaurants where tropical type fare is eaten.

Strombus gigas
Queen conch, bought in Florida- 1980’s -I no longer buy seashells

Don’t Plan to Make Money From Seashells

My only plan to make money from seashells was in using my photography for products I designed in my Zazzle store, Millhill. Over the years I have sold some of my photography, but it’s not a big money maker. My seashell images are only a small part of what I design and sell. I do not sell shells, nor do I want to. I’ve bought shells, like the conch above, back when I didn’t know any better.

If you are searching for ways to sell your shells, or make money from collecting seashells, this is the wrong blog for you. Some readers have left comments asking me about this. I write here to inform others, and end up learning a lot myself from my research.

Sea life is pretty amazing, and I enjoy sharing my photos. I especially think of the many people who never, or seldom ever, get to visit the ocean.

I’ve read some pretty horrible blogs that tell you making money by selling shells is possible. One blogger wrote that live seashells were worth the most! What? If you collect a living mollusk it will die, but maybe he was referring to selling it to an aquarium owner. I don’t know, but I believe in letting these amazing creatures live in their own wild habitat. They have it hard enough without people stepping in and collecting them.

I have come across some really awesome shells in my area that I would have loved to add to my small collection. The beautiful knobbed whelk that I found out on an island was one such shell. It was broken, but look at that color and size! The mollusk that built it was gone, but a big hermit crab was tucked way down inside! I took photos and put it back into the water.

Taking Seashells Back Home From Vacation

Florida is a tourist state. Visitors come here year round. Many of them stay on or near the beaches, or at least visit the beach at some point.

The Gulf coast is known for it’s abundance of seashells because the water is calmer and shells are deposited like treasure along the coastline. Of course, it’s where everyone wants to go and the area has become extremely overcrowded. For this reason I am glad my side of the state is not known for seashell collecting. It’s crowded enough here without all that!

If you want to bring souvenir beach shells back home with you and have to fly, it’s okay to pack them in checked bags – as far as I know. Check with the TSA, since rules and regulations change quickly in this world.

If you are interested, Pam at “i love shelling” has some good advice for packing shells to keep them safe from breaking on the journey home.

Skittle the cat with two big horse conch seashells found empty out on the islands at low tide
Two horse conch shells and Skittle the Cat

Related Blog Posts

Boston’s Big Seashell Convention

If you are an avid shell collector and have yet to find that special seashell, you might want to head to Boston the end of this month (August 27-31, 2010) and take part in the Conchologists of America’s convention.

Photos from past conventions can be viewed, like the one last year in Clearwater, Florida. In fact most of the conventions in the past have been held in Florida (could that be because there are so many beaches and one of the best in the world to collect shells?), but other states have held them too and now it’s Boston’s turn.

florida seashell
Crown Conch

In fact it looks like this is the first time ever that they have had this COA convention in Massachusetts and the last one that was in the northeast was in 1972 in the state of Rhode Island.

If you are hoping to be a vendor, and haven’t already applied, it’s too late! And all participants had to be members of COA in 2009 and 2010.

But you can still browse and buy and I personally would like to just see what they have and maybe learn a few more names of my shells.

Go to the site: Conchologists of America, Inc.  for information, and not only about the convention.  This site is full of helpful information about seashells and I have linked to it numerous times when writing.

If you go to the convention, I’d love to hear how it was and especially what you found!

Quiet Day On The Boat

A hot and beautiful day on the boat took us to a remote river island, a stop in the ocean, and then to Ponce Inlet.

Pretty Gray Banded Tulip Shell

A quick little share of this pretty gray banded tulip shell found on a recent boating trip. Read more shelling stories on the blog

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