If stringing shells for a Christmas tree or filling a decorative jar with colorful finds from a time well spent, there’s nothing like strolling the waters edge for treasured souvenirs.
All that is needed is a bucket, a scoop, and respect for local shelling policies
A law that reigns supreme on Lido 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 Lido 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.
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:
Extending from Sarasota Bay around Big Pass to the Gulf of Mexico is South Lido Beach Park. This oasis of natural beauty is prolific with wildlife, especially along the bay. Low tide on the bayside will reveal sand bars ripe with a variety of shells, sand dollars and sometimes a starfish or two.
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.
Caution should be taken if shelling in Big Pass as currents can be fairly strong.
North Lido Beach’s less populated shore is another excellent location.
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.