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How To Find Seashells On The Beach
Finding seashells on the beach is one of the most rewarding things to do on a coastal vacation.
It’s fun for kids and adults and will teach you about marine life in the area.
For instance, did you know that a scotch bonnet is a predator of sand dollars, urchins, and sea biscuits? It uses sulfuric acid to drill holes into their shells.
Pretty cool, right? And it’s one of the most prized shells to collect in North Carolina.
The following tips will help you find fantastic seashells on any beach you visit.
And before you hit the beach, read this shell identification guide. It will help you keep on the lookout for rare and prized shells.
Read More – 24 Best Shelling Beaches in NC, Including Secret Spots
Read More – The 16 Best Sea Shelling Tools Ever
Read More – Why Ocean Isle Beach Is A Hidden Gem
1 – Go Before or After Low Tide
The best tide for shelling is about an hour before or after low tide.
High tide will bring those beautiful shells inland. As the tide recedes, you’ll be able to see the treasures the tide left behind.
Remember to look up the tide charts for the beach you are shelling at to prepare for the best hunting time.
2 – Go Out Early In The Morning To Beat Other Shellers
The best time to go shelling is before anyone else gets there.
Even if you’ve found a great beach to shell at, the best shells will be found by the people that get there first.
Serious shellers are even known to bring a flashlight and hunt before the sun comes up. (Yes, some shellers go out when it’s still dark!)
For this reason, it’s important to get up early in the morning or find a time and place where there’s not a lot of competition.
3 – Wade Into The Water A Few Feet
Sometimes the best shells can be found by wading into the water a few feet, especially if the beach has already been picked over.
This works well if the beach has a shallow shoreline with gentle waves that allow shells to wash up in one piece.
And it’s helpful to have a net handy to catch the shells before they wash away. In fact, a net with a long handle will allow you to reach far into the water to capture shells.
The ocean side of Shackleford Banks on the coast of North Carolina is a great place to find large conch shells. Many people have great luck by wading out into the water to pull out these treasures. Bring goggles and a large bag to carry home your findings.
4 – Look Through Grass and piles Of Seaweed
If you’re only looking at the shoreline for seashells, you may be missing out on hidden treasures.
Grass and seaweed can be one of the best places to find seashells. Many people will walk right by a clump of seaweed and not even notice the delicate shells hiding there.
5 – Dig Into The Sand
Digging into the sand can also help you find seashells.
Bring a shovel to dig up partially buried shells.
You can even find shovels that have a built-in sifter to separate the sand from the shells.
Shovel With Sifter
6 – Hunt For Shells After A Storm
One of the best times to hunt for shells is after a storm.
Powerful storms can cause strong currents that provide excellent shelling.
Try to visit the beach after a hurricane or strong wind. You’ll most likely find rare and unusual shells.
Shell Identification Guide
7 – Go In The Off-Season
Though the ocean is gorgeous any time of year, dress warmly to brave the chilly temperatures.
Consider bringing waders, scuba boots, or water shoes to keep your feet warm while you search the water’s edge. This would also be a great time to use a net to search the water for shells while keeping your hands warm and dry.
8 – Wear Polarized Sunglasses
Wearing polarized sunglasses will protect your eyes and help you find shells on the beach and in the water.
UV sun rays are hard on the eyes, and the bright sun can keep you from seeing the best shells.
During the colder months, there are fewer visitors to the beach. For this reason, the off-season is one of the best times to find seashells.
9 – Search Tidal Pools And Marshes
Tide pools and marshes can be rewarding places to look for sea creatures.
Crabs, mussels, urchins, starfish, and sand dollars are some of the marine life you may find in a tide pool.
Know your local laws regarding taking shells from tide pools and marshes.
If the animal is alive, leave it there. If a shell is abandoned, check your local regulations to know if it is okay to take with you.
An empty shell can actually provide a home for a growing sea critter.
10 – Find Remote Beaches
The more untouched a beach is, the more shell treasures you may find.
Beaches and islands that take a ferry to get to will often be worthwhile to visit.
Portsmouth Island is a wonderful shelling destination in my home state of North Carolina because you have to take a 45-minute ferry to get there and have a 4WD vehicle to get around.
11 – Hunt For Shells During Full Moon Or New Moon
A full moon or new moon can produce extreme waves that bring wonderful shells to the shore.
You’ll have extra shelling success if you combine a full moon with a low tide or a recent storm.
12 – Search For Shells In Inlets
Many people hunt along the ocean’s edge for shells but don’t forget that deep currents run through inlets, producing interesting finds.
Explore inlets and marshes with a kayak to search sandy shores for shelling treasures if possible.
13 – Find A Beach That Allows 4WD Vehicles
In North Carolina, we are blessed with many beaches in the Outer Banks that you can explore with a 4WD vehicle.
This allows you to search remote beach areas that few people can visit, which means more shells for you.
Check the beaches in your area to see if any allow 4WD. Or, visit us here in NC!
14 – Take Your Time Looking For Seashells
Hunting for seashells takes time and patience.
Sit down by a bed of shells and enjoy your time looking through them. It can be very therapeutic.
And it’s so rewarding when you finally find a scotch bonnet, conch, whelk, or whatever special shell you’re hunting for.
15 – Pick A Good Spot To Find Shells
You’ll likely find shells at any beach, but to find the best shelling spots, go where the locals go.
And how can you know that?
Check out local shelling Facebook groups – like this one in North Carolina. Members in these groups are serious shellers and discuss the best spots to look for shells in the area.
You can also ask members about where to look for shells in the area you are staying.
Another tactic is to ask the owners of the hotel/home you are staying at. They’ll know the area well and likely point you to spots that aren’t well-known.
I’d also suggest searching reviews about the beach you’re staying at on Tripadvisor. Use the search bar to put in the word “shell”. All comments about that beach that mentions shelling will come up.
16 – Find Lodging Near Shelling Area
Some of the best shelling beaches are hard or impossible to access unless you’re staying at a home in that community.
Stay as close as possible if you cannot find lodging on a beach. This will make it easier to get out early in the morning before other shellers are out.
My favorite place to book a home is VRBO. The advantage of booking a home over a hotel is the extra space you will get inside the home and outside. This is the way to go if you have kids or a pet.
When looking for a hotel, I prefer Hotels.com. My husband and I have used them for years because you get a free hotel night for every 10 nights you book.
18 – Don’t Take Live Shells
When I visited Sand Dollar Island in North Carolina years ago, people were hauling out live sand dollars by the bucket.
It was sad to see so many sea creatures going to their death.
Check local laws to know the rules in your area regarding shell collecting.
Some beaches won’t even allow you to take empty shells.
But if the shells do have a sea creature living inside, leave it there. You can take a picture or visit a local gift shop to buy shell souvenirs to take home.
19 – Bring The Right Equipment
All you need to find shells is a good pair of eyes, patience, and a bit of luck.
But having the right equipment can help also.
Consider bringing these items to your next shelling adventure:
- Shell Bag
- Polarized sunglasses
- Water shoes
- Scuba boots
- Seashell identification guide
- Sand Flea Rake
- Bug spray
- Sun hat
- Grocery sack for litter
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