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Seashells by the Seashore - Naples, Florida

Types of seashells found along the beaches of Naples, Florida.

Types of seashells found along the beaches of Naples, Florida.

Shells from Naples, FL beach.

Shells from Naples, FL beach.

Southern Florida sand dollar.

Southern Florida sand dollar.

Best place to find seashells - Naples, Florida

Do you enjoy long walks along the beach at sunrise, sunset, or any time of the day? Whether the tide is coming in or going out, a leisurely walk along the beach is relaxing and a great way to enjoy what I call "the jewels of the gulf", the seashells.

Right there at our feet are some of the most beautiful and interesting sea animals and shells that the gulf has washed up on the beach for our enjoyment. I love to collect seashells by the sea shore and display them at home. The Naples beaches are a treasure trove for finding so many different types of sea shells, sea urchins, sand dollars, and starfish.

The western gulf side of Florida still offers charming seashell hunting that the east coast Atlantic Ocean side of Florida does not. Naples, Florida is one of the best places for finding unique and different types of shells, along with Sanibel Island and Captiva Island nearby. These three places are the sea shell hunting capital of Florida. So, lets take off at one of the Naples beaches for some seashell hunting right now.

Seashells like the ones pictured above are mollusks. Mollusks have their skeletons on the outside of their bodies for protection as opposed to humans whose skeletons are inside the body. The outside skeleton, which we call the shell, protects the living organism from the gulf (or sea) and other sea animals and is made of hard calcium. Inside the shell lives the soft fleshy slug-like creatures.

As you are walking along collecting your shells, when you find one with the slug-like creature still in the shell, that means the shell is alive. Don't pick it up to save. Leave the live shells on the beach to preserve and conserve the living organisms of the beach.

When hunting shells, only collect the shells that are dead - that means there is no longer a living slug-like creature in the shell. These are perfectly fine to pick up to save as you are not disturbing any live sea life.

Look at the texture and the colors of the seashell. Are they rough, smooth, grainy, or sandy feeling? All this is the result of the water and sand washing on the shell over a period of time. The colors are sometimes formed over many years of sea life and beach life. Each shell is a unique shape, form and color and no two shells are ever the same, just as no two people are ever the same.

Sand dollars are very popular on the Naples beaches and usually wash up on the beach in the month of June. Usually they are found lying in a bed buried under a layer of sand close to the water's edge so you have to look hard and dig for them. The sand dollar has no arms or legs, but moves around by tiny spines on their body that feel like a soft fur covering. If the spines are still on them, they are alive and I leave them in the sand.

They have the five tiny holes that resemble the position of Jesus Christ on the cross, and so the legend has it that when you break open a sand dollar there are five dove-like shaped pieces that fall out.

Therefore, the sand dollar, has become the symbol for Christ and the dove-like pieces, doves who spread good will and peace. But, to me, sand dollars are so beautiful and precious, I have a hard time breaking them open to get to the doves.

Starfish are very popular to the Naples beaches also. They are classified not as fish, but as animals. They are surprisingly quite voracious predators in the sea. We think of starfish that have five legs or points, but there are many variations and many variations in numbers and types of legs: the basket star has legs that resemble the roots of a tree; the brittle star has five thin legs but they are bent and curled; the sea star has nine legs or points; the sunflower star has a of legs or points and really does resemble a sunflower, the reason for its name.

If alive and moving when I find one on the beach I throw it back in the gulf. And, yes, I've heard the story of the man throwing one of many starfish back in the sea. Starfish are cooked and eaten and considered a delicacy. I've eaten starfish and it's not bad; however, I equate it like eating rabbit - it's difficult to eat such a beautiful and lovely creature.

Sea urchins are beautiful and come in a variety of colors. They have long spines rather than arms or legs. The spines are used for camouflage, locomotion, and for defensive purposes. They feed on sea grasses algae and have a close relationship to the starfish and sand dollar. Their underside near the middle has the familiar five pointed star pattern.

Typical sea urchin found along the beaches of Naples, Florida

Typical sea urchin found along the beaches of Naples, Florida

Cleaning and preserving seashells

Seashells not properly cleaned leave a devastatinng order. Properly cleaned, however, they will leave no odor. To properly clean your seashells find an old pot that you no longer use everyday for cooking. Fill the pan with 50/50 solution of bleach and water and boil them for about fifteen to thirty minutes. Be sure the the flaky leathery covering on the shell is gone before you take them out of the pot. Then lay them out on paper towels to dry outside in the sun if possible. They can then be used in the home or in crafts and will never smell again.

Sand dollars when found on the beach are a dark brown color. To clean them, soak them in fresh water first, changing the water frequently as they begin to smell and begin turning the water brown. Then, soak them in a solution of bleach and water and let them sit for 5-10 minutes. Then, remove them from the bleach, rinse them thoroughly and let them dry. Sand dollars will crumble if left in bleach for longer than 10 minutes. This is how you get the sand dollars white like the ones you see in the store.

Starfish are cleaned by soaking them in isopropl alcohol overnight. Then let them dry out on a paper towel, preferably outside in the sun. Be sure to weigh down the legs so they don't curl up as they dry.

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Sanibel Island, FL

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    Start your seashell collection by "shelling" on the pristine beaches of Sanibel Island, and learn to do the "Sanibel stoop."

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