By Marcea Cazel, My Cornacopia
Sugar sand beaches and clear, warm water are a few reasons people take a beach vacation to the state of Florida. But did you know that some people visit for the cockle prickly, jingles, conch and angel wings? These are just some of the types of shells you’ll find when you head on a shelling adventure and visit Caladesi Island along the shores of the Gulf Coast of Florida.
From Honeymoon Island, just north of Clearwater Beach, all the way south to Naples Beach, shells are plentiful due to the way the shelf floor of the Gulf of Mexico sits. The continental shelf on the east coast of Florida has a steeper drop-off than is on the west coast of the state. That flatter area next to the Gulf Coast allow shells to remain more intact when they make it to shore, making for a fun day looking for shells!
While Sanibel Island is often called the seashell capital of the world, my family enjoys hunting for shells on Caladesi Island. It’s not crowded and is close to Clearwater and Tampa. Voted one of the best beaches in America, Caladesi Island is the perfect place to have a nice day on a quiet beach.
So here are some simple tips on how you and your family can visit Caladesi Island to find some great shells on your vacation.
How to Visit Caladesi Island
A part of the Florida State Park System, Caladesi Island is only accessible by boat. For this reason, it’s less crowded than some other beaches in the area. You can kayak out to the island, take your own boat or catch the Caladesi Ferry over. The ferry only takes about 20 minutes from the starting point on Honeymoon Island to Caladesi. If you’re lucky, you’ll see dolphins in the inlet on your trip.
Check The Tides
Checking the tide chart is important when looking for shells. You want to head out to visit Caladesi Island within an hour of low tide. With the tide being farther out, you can see more area, see more shells and also venture farther out onto the sand bars. You wouldn’t be able to do this when it’s high tide.
Take The Right Supplies
You’ll have the most fun shelling if you have the right supplies. Pick up a shelling net and a shell bag before you get to the beach. While you should walk the sand to look for shells that have washed on shore, you’ll often find some really great ones that are still in the water. The shell net will help you get those shells that are buried in the sand without having to bend over too much.
The shell bag can be slung across your body, which will free your hands. The bag also has holes that help drain the water and some sand. Some people bring a plastic bag to hold the shells but that won’t drain the water. Besides, plastic just isn’t good for the environment or sea life so leave it at home.
Do The Stingray Shuffle
As you’re walking through the water, it’s rare to come in direct contact with sea life. However, stingrays do hang out close to shore. Stingrays aren’t out to get you but they hide in the sand. When you step directly on their backs, the barb on their tail is engaged in a defensive mode and can embed in your foot, causing a very painful sting. The best way to avoid this? Shuffle your feet as you walk through the water which will alert the stingrays you’re coming.
Types of Shells
When you get on the dock to visit Caladesi Island, you’ll find a large board that shows you all the shells that can be found on the island. There are over 40 shells listed with their popular name, scientific name and some information about them. We like to compare the shells we found with the ones on the board when we’re headed home.
One of the beautiful things about shelling is that one person’s bad shell is another’s treasure. My daughter loves the big plain white clamshells which are called clam quahogs. I find them a little boring but it doesn’t matter because there are so many varieties of shells to be found. No one leaves feeling like they didn’t find something they love.
In additional to traditional-looking shells, you’ll also find some rare shells on Caladesi like scotch bonnet shells and sand dollars. I’ve never personally found a sand dollar, which is a dream of mine. I did recently see a guy on Caledisi Island find one, so I know they’re out there!
Be Thoughtful When Shelling
When you pick up a shell make sure you turn it over or look inside of it before putting it in your bag. Sometimes shells will already have ‘owners’. Remember that shells are the protective hard outer base for live sea creatures. In the state of Florida, it’s illegal to remove a shell from the beach if it has a live inhabitant. When we find a live animal in the shell, we throw it back into the water as far as we can to give it a fighting chance.
Another important thing to try to do is to not take every shell you see. I know, it’s hard. It’s very exciting to find a wide variety of shells and want to keep them all! This is especially hard for children. I use it as a teachable moment and explain to my daughter that there will be plenty of other shells as we walk along and that we want to share with the other beachcombers.
Where To Stay
Caladesi Island is located in Dunedin, which is a quaint artsy town just north of Clearwater and 45 minutes west of Tampa. There are many hotels within a few miles of Caladesi Island for your family to stay at. The newly renovated 1920’s Fenway Hotel is part of the Autograph Collection by Mariott. The brand new Hampton Inn Dunedin (Hilton) and the Yacht Harbor Inn, part of the Best Western chain, are located right on the water.
(Insert Thank you for visiting Caladesi Island photo here)
Finding a great place to go shelling while visiting the Tampa Bay Area is easy when you head to Caladesi Island. With a peaceful undeveloped beach located in a fun area, Caladesi Island provides a great opportunity to find a lot of shells and make wonderful vacation memories with family.