Sanibel Island – A paradise for shell lovers

Shell-lovers from all over the world make pilgrimages to Sanibel Island, which is considered one of the best shelling spots in the world. Sanibel’s beaches, protected by a broad underwater shelf perfect for gently receiving deliveries from shell-laden currents, are carpeted with tiny, perfect pastel coquinas and false angel wings. Collecting them has become a favourite pastime for many visitors. In fact, so many people go shelling when visiting the island that the bent-at-the-waist stance one takes when bending over to retrieve a seashell has been dubbed the “Sanibel Stoop.” By Bev Cleary Writer and pioneering aviator Anne Morrow Lindbergh said: “One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach!” Sounds obvious when you think about it. But she may have been thinking about one particularly idyllic island off the coast of Florida which doesn’t just have shells ON the beach – the shells ARE the beach! The sublime Sanibel island is world renowned among ‘shellers’ for its incredibly vast array of more than 400 different amazing varieties of seashells. Sanibel IslandEach day shells are washed up onto the shores of the many beaches of Sanibel, and its close neighbour Captiva, from the tides of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, the area has become a real paradise for ‘shellers’ – the term given to those who enjoy walking the beaches and looking for seashells to inspect and collect. According to historians and the island’s Chamber of Commerce, Sanibel and Captiva began life as a huge area of sediment shaped by centuries of terrific storm activity. Both Sanibel and Captiva rose from the ocean as one island some 6,000 years ago. They played host to their first native inhabitants, the Calusa Indians, around 3,500 years later. Disease brought by European sailors caused the deaths of the native Indian populations and the islands suffered from the effects of decades of piracy and civil war. It wasn’t until 1845 that Sanibel and Captiva were admitted to the Union shortly after the area was declared safe to inhabit. In 1870 the Lighthouse was granted reservation status and it lit the skies for the first time in 1884. It has been their simple geography and ‘boomerang’ shaped shorelines that have made Sanibel and Captiva two of nature’s most successful seashell entrapments over the last few thousand years. And there really are some rich pickings for shellers! There so many shells on and in the islands that residents regularly dig them up when doing their own gardening! According to, the top five sites for ‘shellers’ to practise their Sanibel ‘shkills’ are:
  • Lighthouse Beach, which plays host to thousands of small but beautifully formed shells of all colours in addition to its historic lighthouse and nature trail;
  • Gulfside City Park , a less well known area where shellers can while away the day without being disturbed by large groups of tourists;
  • Bowman’s Beach, a quiet and idyllic white beach on the northwest of the island, with a large assortment of shells; and
  • Blind Pass Beach which is one of the best spots to locate the larger shells or observe those which may still play home to resident sea life creatures.
And if that’s not enough, visitors can take the opportunity to brush up on their Sanibel ‘stooping’ techniques too. The term ‘stoop’ or ‘stooping’ refers to the action of bending down to collect a shell from the beaches of Sanibel –  the Washington Post newspaper also described it as the Sanibel “bent-at-the-waist posture”. Sanibel NatureIn a bid to ensure wildlife on and around the islands are protected from over-zealous shellers and stoopers, local officials enforce an eco-behaviour code. One of the most stringently enforced regulations, introduced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in March 2002, was the banning of the collection of ‘live’ shells from the beaches of this heavenly, holiday haven. The ban came into force as a result of decades of ‘live’ shell creatures being taken away by inquisitive holidaymakers and collectors. Sanibel is home to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, which is the only museum in the United States which claims to be “devoted entirely to shells and molluscs”.  It boasts “more than 30 engaging exhibits of stunning shells, showcasing some of the largest and rarest shell specimens in the world, including the goliath conch, lightning whelk and Atlantic trumpet triton, as well as common Southwest Florida shell and fossil shells”. According to “The Beaches Fort Myers and Sanibel” organisation, shellers are especially advised to look out for the Sanibel Six when ‘stooping’ or, indeed, when ‘crouching’ on Captiva. Apparently, the best time to go shell hunting is after high winds and storms when more shells are brought to the island by more fearsome waves. Collecting at lower tide, of course, also means that there is more sand and a bigger expanse of beach on which to comb for those special, elusive shells. The Sanibel Six  seashells  are: the low tide dwelling Lightning Whelk; the complex and difficult to find Lace Murex; the orange dotted and dashed Alphabet Cone; the Florida Fighting Conch which can be ‘aggressive’ if alive when picked up; the Lettered Olive, which is the ‘shiniest shell’ on Sanibel; and the four-inch-long Banded Tulip. If visitors can drag themselves away from the top shelling areas of Sanibel and Captiva, they can enjoy the sun, sea and sand in average August Florida temperatures of between 71 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Sanibel FoodIn addition, they can compare their experiences with those of former famous holidaymakers and lovers of this charming, American island holiday idyl. As mentioned earlier, Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her husband, the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, would often holiday on the southwest coast of Florida and on Sanibel’s sister island, Captiva in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Their stays are said to have enthused Anne to writer her 3 million bestselling book, Gift from the Sea. Other famous faces rumoured to have graced the town’s sights and eateries include musician Eric Clapton, actor Johnny Depp and even American politician Mike Pence. Folk rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young raised the islands’ profiles when they sang about the “Starlit nights in paradise on the Isle of Sanibel”. Some parts of Sanibel have been used for scenes in well-known movies including director Georgeo Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985) and the majestic Sanibel Causeway in a handful of commercial advertisements including promotions for the 2014 E-Class Coupe. For ordinary visitors, the causeway is a fantastic place for a gentle stroll. But be warned that, if winds reach speeds of more than 40mph, the Causeway will close. If you want to enjoy the wealth of beauty and scenery on Sanibel, Captiva and nearby Fort Myers and the Florida coast, you can do the ‘stoop’ from the comfort of your own sofa!  Click on one of the many Sanibel beach and town cams made available by the local Chamber of Commerce official website to see what you are missing.

Sanibel Police Chief Dalton delivers important Coronavirus Health message

Sanibel Police Chief Dalton has released a public health message this weekend giving important advice on social distancing and best practices to avoid spreading the Coronavirus. Sanibel now has four confirmed cases of the Coronavirus, and Captiva has a single confirmed case, according to a report released on Saturday by the Florida Department of Health. Police Chief Bill Dalton shared an important reminder to practice social distancing – be six feet apart and limit groups to 10 or less, as well as to refrain from rafting vessels together, sanitize hands often, avoid sharing items, and to work together to get through this situation. Residents can raise issues or concerns by calling the Sanibel Police Department on 239-472-3111. Dial 9-1-1 for emergencies.  

Sanibel Fire Department launches app to personalize emergency response

Sanibel Fire Department has teamed up with First Due to launch a program so that firefighters have more information to help local residents in an emergency. The Community Connect website and app will allow you to add personal information about your home and household functional needs. For your property, it will help firefighters to quickly understand critical information such your residence type, whether or not you have fire sprinklers or your family meeting place and improves the Fire Department’s ability to respond and make decisions during an emergency. You are even able to include photos of your house so it’s easier to find, and detail any medical conditions you may have. You can even provide information about your pets and a photo of them so firefighters can easily identify them in an emergency. Fire Chief Matthew Scott stated, ”The First Responders of the Sanibel Fire Rescue District are always looking for way to improve the services we provide to our community. We are excited to announce that we are providing a new program that allows us to protect our residents lives and property in even more effective ways. The program is Community Connect. It is a free, secure and easy way for our communities to provide critical information about their households to our first responders. By providing information about you or your residence that you feel is important for our emergency response personnel to know about in the unfortunate event that there is an emergency, we can ensure you and everything you care about can be better protected.”

Vice President Pence wraps up Sanibel Island trip with visit to Sanibel Community Church

Vice President Pence has wrapped up his New Year Sanibel trip with a visit to the island’s Community Church. Pence and his security detail were seen at Sanibel Community Church, coming in for the 11 a.m. service. Pence is a regular at the church and congregants are not surprised to see him. Unsurprisingly given the security detail that surrounds the Vice President and the current Iranian security situation, travel delays were to be expected, The temporary flight restrictions lasted until 2:30 p.m., which is a couple of hours later than initially planned. Sanibel’s busy weekend traffic also struggled to cope with the extra roadblocks and security convoys. Pence is known to frequent Cheeburger Cheeburger, which is a 1950s-style burger restaurant chain that owes its origins to Sanibel, along with the Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market and Sanibel’s Best Homemade Ice Cream. However, there were no sightings on this visit. No word yet as to whether the Vice President will be repeating an Easter trip to Sanibel this year.