The beaches around Naples, Marco Island, and the 10,000 Islands provide some of the best shelling opportunities in the USA, attracting shell enthusiasts from all over the world. Sugar-white sandy beaches are bordered by the clear shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico where gentle waves regularly deposit some amazing seashells onto the shore.
Expect to find lion’s paws, moon shells, coquinas, clams, cockles, limpets, cones, murexes, shapely lightning whelks, pointed fighting conchs and ridged scallops, just some of the 400 shell species found around Naples and Marco Island. In addition to beautiful shells, you may be lucky enough to find dried starfish, sea urchins, armored horseshoe crab shells and whole sand dollars just waiting to be discovered.
Shelling Dos and Don’ts
Take a stroll along the tideline with a bucket or bag and you are likely to find all types and sizes of pretty shells. If you are serious about shelling, then you may want to invest in a shell identifying card or book, a net bag and a scoop for uncovering semi-buried shells. You’ll also need sun lotion and a hat to avoid sunburn as you will quickly lose track of time as you move from one captivating seashell to the next, hunting for treasures.
You need to inspect each shell before dropping into your bag as it is illegal to take live shells from the beach. You can clearly see if there is an inhabitant in the shell. If so, just return it to the water, even if you found it above the waterline. If you find a sand dollar, turn it over and make sure it does not have tiny feelers on the underside that move when touched.
Tips for Top Shelling
Low tide is the time to find the best shells and the lowest tides are when there is a full moon or a new moon. You will also find more shells cast ashore after a storm. Quieter beaches naturally provide better pickings for discerning shell collectors. Clam Pass Park, Naples is reached by a boardwalk and has excellent shelling. Another hidden gem for shell collecting is Barefoot Beach Preserve in North Naples.
Marco Island is famous for its shelling, particularly on South Beach or at the north end of Tigertail Beach, which becomes a shell-covered spit. For the ultimate shelling, charter a boat or take a shelling boat trip to Keewaydin Island, Cape Romano at the tip of 10,000 Islands, or some of the uninhabited cays just offshore. You can wade ankle-deep through piles of shells and find some splendid specimens to take home.
You will notice that your shells look beautiful when wet, but by the time you reach home they are dull and matte. Soak the shells for a few hours in a 50:50 solution of bleach to kill any bacteria then rinse and inspect each shell. Remove barnacles or debris with an old toothbrush or toothpick. To restore natural color and shine, wipe the shells with baby oil or coat with satin varnish. Sand dollars can be strengthened by painting them with a coating of white glue and water and leaving to dry and harden. Now you can put your treasures out on display, singly or in a jar, or set them aside for a craft project.
There are plenty of creative ideas for conchologists (seashell collectors) on the internet. You can make shell animals, decorate box lids and picture frames, use in jewelry-making, add to potpourri, use as candle holders, add an airplant, glue to toothpicks for spearing hors d’oeuvres, or string together as a delightful wind chime. Who knows, your shelling in Naples and Marco Island could inspire a whole new hobby!
Additional information about Naples and Marco Island beaches.