For serious shell-collectors, all roads lead to Sanibel Island and Lee County beaches. The region’s reputation for seashells and all things beachy reaches high tide in March, when Sanibel Island hosts the 85th annual Sanibel Shell Festival. But you needn’t wait until then to have a “shelluva” good time on local beaches. The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau has a handful of ideas for learning more about shells and their habitat.
85th Annual Shell Festival, Sanibel Island
March 3, 4 and 5 bring a flurry of shells, shellers, shell collectors and shell lovers to The Community House. Shelling lies at the island’s heart in more ways than an annual festival. Sanibel itself rests on a bed of shells, and its east-west torque at the island’s south end ensures its reputation as Shelling Capital of the U.S. — if not the world. The shell festival and its accompanying shell show competition bring shell vendors, shell crafters and conchologists from all over the world. The show judges their trophy shells and shell creations. The festival’s exhibits have an educational component, plus food vendors are on hand, because all that looking at shells can work up an appetite. 239-472-2155, www.sanibelcommunityhouse.net.
Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, Sanibel Island
A monument to Sanibel’s shellacious reputation, the one-of-a-kind museum explores the world of mollusks and the treasures they leave behind. On the first floor, aquariums and touch pools introduce the creatures that inhabit seashells, along with shell-less mollusks such as octopi and squid. The second level devotes its space to the culture of seashells through history in art, religion and nature. The museum also hosts, lectures, classes and other educational opportunities, including its daily naturalist-guided morning beach walks. A current special exhibition, Blackwater Moments: Nocturnal
Photography of Open-Ocean Mollusks, runs through May. 239-395-2233, www.shellmuseum.org.
Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers Beach
Among a calendar of special educational tours and programs, staff at Lovers Key often holds lessons on the beach about seashells and shoreline ecology. Upcoming on Thursday, Feb. 17, at 10. a.m., guides lead a free Beach and Estuary Walk to explore shells, starfish and other beach finds. On Thursday, Feb. 24, at noon, join a Florida master naturalist for Shelling and Beachcombing, a free introduction. Reservations are required for the programs at LoversKey. Eventbrite.com. 239-463-4588, www.floridastateparks.org/Lovers-Key.
J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island
The refuge offers a full calendar of free seasonal tours at its various venues, including Perry Tract, adjacent to Gulfside City Park (parking fees apply). Most Saturday and Monday mornings at 10 a.m., volunteer educators lead an exploration of the shells, birds and other curious treasures one can find on the beach. Reservations are required at DingDarling. Eventbrite.com. 239-472-1100, www.dingdarlingwildlifesociety.org.
The Lee County VCB website lists a number of shelling cruises that depart from the Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers Beach and the mainland on a daily basis. Most of them take you to the shell-rich islands of Cayo Costa or North Captiva, where an absence of bridges and car traffic means an abundance of shells. Experts aboard can help you identify your finds. Some combine the experience with dolphin spotting or an island lunch.
See www.VisitFortMyers.com for more information on shelling and beaches in Fort Myers — Islands, Beaches and Neighborhoods. ¦
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