The Day the Sea Dumped Shells on the Beach

The Day the Sea Dumped Shells on the Beach

Shelling Tips for Shell Collectors

I’m an avid shelling fan and enjoy spending countless hours on the beaches of Southwest Florida looking for the perfect uninhabited shell specimen. It can be back-breaking work, hunched over for hours, sorting through shell piles or wading in the water, but the joy I get from the beautiful finds makes it well worth it.

meteotsunami shelling event

On a recent trip to Southwest Florida, we encountered a very rare shelling event. Scientists think a meteotsunami hit Southwest Florida last week, sending surf rushing up beach access walkways. A meteotsunami — not to be confused with a tsunami —  consists of large waves caused by air pressure disturbances and quick-moving storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The result? It was as if everything in the ocean was dumped in huge massive piles, right on the beach. Piles of gorgeous pristine shells, crab traps, old bones, horseshoe crabs, and yes, sadly trash and debris. With so many epic shells to choose from, it wasn’t a matter of obtaining the shells, but a matter of HOW to carry them off the beach.

Some shells still had creatures inside. The RULE of shelling is that if it’s inhabited, throw it back in the water. It’s bad karma, and bad nature etiquette to kill a living thing for its shell. Throw it back, no matter HOW pretty that shell is.

These meteotsunami events are rare, so here are some shelling tips that I have found to be helpful for ‘the rest of the year’.

1. Check the high and low tide schedules. Low tide is always ideal, as you’ll have more open beach and exposed shells to find.
2. Full Moon tides are best as the low tides are at a maximum.
3. Even ‘normal’ windy storms can churn up the sea enough to toss some sea goodies on the beach. Try to go to the first low tide after a storm.
4. Wear shoes. I am proud of my ‘beach feet’ and ask my nail lady to NOT get rid of my tough heels if I know I’m headed to the beach. However, even my weathered beach soles weren’t strong enough for the recent shell covered beach. As there may be bacteria on the beach from the storms, you do not want to cut your bare feet and expose yourself to infections.
5. Make a plan – Do you like certain shells? Are you making a project?  I find it’s best if I come up with a shell hunting plan, otherwise, the day can feel overwhelming. As there were recently SO many beautiful shells, my daughter and I decided we would be making gorgeous shell wreaths. 
6. Bring bags to fill up with shells. Mesh bags are great because they drain fast, but in a pinch, a strong plastic bag will be just fine.