2010-06-23 / 15 Minutes

The sheller of Sanibel Island

BY DAVID LAGACCIA dlagaccia@floridaweekly.com

Pam Rambo COURTESY PHOTO Pam Rambo COURTESY PHOTO Pam Rambo has her eyes focused on the beach beneath her feet. She scrutinizes and looks through washed-up seaweed, bleached driftwood, and cracked shells, searching for eye-catching seashells to add to her already enormous collection, stored in her Sanibel home.

“It’s a treasure hunt,” she said. “Treasures can be small too.”

For the uninitiated, a person who walks along the beach and collects seashells as a hobby or career is called a sheller. Ms. Rambo has been a sheller most of her life, and now she writes a blog, talking about her lifelong enthusiasm for the washed up jewels of the sea.

“It changes by day,” she said while at the ready, with one hand holding her shell bag, filled with shelling gear: her camera, her phone and her notes. “You have to be prepared for anything.”

Ms. Rambo’s daily blog details her and her husband Clark’s experiences in finding prized shells on the beach, with typical entries talking about where, when and what kinds of shells they find.

For instance, on a June 15 blog post, she writes about how they found juvenile horse conchs on Algiers Beach after dinner during an evening stroll. Besides journaling her latest finds, her blog also documents the various shellers she meets on the beach. She takes pictures and writes about them and their latest catches. Some of the people she meets are locals, while others are visitors from around the country and on some occasions, from around the world.

Her blog also gives helpful advice and tips on shelling for the beginning sheller. Some of her methods include looking at tide charts, moon phases and weather reports, all of which can affect how many, and which shells come up on the beach.

“After a storm is especially fantastic or before or just after low tide,” she said.

Ms. Rambo uses her blog to share years of experience of being a sheller. She started shelling on Virginia Beach as a young girl. Her parents, who were also shellers, took her on camping trips and they spent most of their time collecting not just shells, but also other treasures they found on the beach.

Throughout her life, she has amassed a collection of thousands of shells with hundreds of different species from around the world. On the iconic conch shell, she said, “We have so many of those we give them away.” She has a personal collection of about 3,000 of her favorite worm shell. She used 1,000 of them to create a mirror frame.

Despite having an enormous collection, she has never found a rare junonia, a spiraling, cream-colored shell with brown spots. She balances the pursuit of junonia and other works of nature’s art with her work. She prefers to shell for several hours during the evening. Sometimes she dives for shells, but she stresses that through all of her years of collecting, she has never taken out anything that is living. Currently she doesn’t use her blog as a way to sell shells from her collection. “I like to share our amazing treasures,” she said, “We just give away the bulk of what we find.”

She started her website last September as a way to sell homemade Christmas cards decorated with shells. Naturally, on the website she had to promote the kinds of shells she was using. When the Christmas season ended, the website turned into a fulltime blog about shelling. The blog has become a success, connecting her with people with similar interests.

“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “I get followers from around the world, and they thank me, because they find the shells they were looking for because of my blog.

“People get addicted,” she said. She understands her blog followers fixation. The research, the wandering on the beaches is all worth it, she says, “when you find that one great shell.” 

— Visit Ms. Rambo’s blog at http:// iloveshelling.com/blog/

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