There's shelling and then there's Cayo Costa shelling. This State Park in the gulf coast of Florida is one not to be missed, perfect spot for nature treasure hunting.
Cayo Costa State Park is one of the largest barrier island in Florida with 9 miles of unspoiled beach only accessible by boat.
“It is located along the Gulf of Mexico and is considered one of the best shelling beaches in the world.”
The island has no developments so it has retained its natural beauty and unique vegetation as when it was discovered 500 years ago.
The island is only accessible by charter boat, private boat, ferry or helicopter. We joined Captiva Cruise‘s half day tour at McCarthy’s Marina. The ferry ride was about half an hour with dolphin watching along the way and was dropped off at the south end of the island with two hours of shelling time. If you prefer a longer stay, they also offer a full day tour with 4 hours on the north end of the island where the trails and amenities are located.
The trip was absolutely worth it. In the short two hours we were there, we found a variety of seashells we did not see in Captiva or Sanibel. We even came across a Ghost Crab who seemed a bit dried out in the sun.
SEASHELLS IN CAYO COSTA
Here is a list of shells we found during our shelling expedition.
Live sand dollars are brown and hairy so only pick the dead ones that are white. The best place to look for perfect sand dollars here are actually in the shallow water. They are often slight buried into the sand so wade through knee high water and keep a close watch for anything slight flat.
Lightening Whelk Shells
Lightening whelk have counterclockwise shell spiral and can grow to 16 inches. We found a lot of mid size shells but the big one we found was still alive so we put it back in the water.
Fighting conch can be around 3 - 4 inches. We found fighting conch in Captiva as well but we had to dive for the big ones. Here there were an abundance of the large ones on the sandy beach ready for the picking.
Guady Nautica is a type of moon snail with an interesting pattern.
Atlantic Giant Cockle
A true cockle shell has a rounded, heart-shaped shell with a slightly ribbed texture. We found quite a few large ones in Cayo Costa and they were all in tac.
Tulip Banded Shell
Seldom over 4" long, the Tulip Banded Shell is distinctive with the 7 brown lines. We didn't find any in Captiva or Sanibel but we were lucky enough to find this one here.
Olive shells has extremely glossy shell and were everywhere in all different sizes.
Calico scallops are almost like bay scallops but they have the patch work of red and pink on the top half.
Sunray Venus is named for the distinctive pattern reminiscent of the rays of the setting sun and is the largest venus shell.
Named as Kitten's Paw by most collectors because of the resemblance, they are about an inch long.
The slender Cerith shells we found were quite small, no bigger then 15mm.
The Auger is a long narrow tapered shell that can grow up to 1 3/4".
Cut Ribbed Ark
Cut ribbed ark can grow to 4 1/2" and have 30-38 grooved radial ribs and concentric ridges between the ribs
Worm snails are irregular tubular spiral shells. We found only a broken piece.
Florida Spiny Jewelbox
Florida spiny jewelbox doesn’t get larger the 1 1/2" in length and have prickly spines on the shell
Scotch bonnet is the offical shell of North Carolina. It has small orange/brown squares that give it a plaid appearance.
The calico clam shells has an exterior of creamy white with a checkerboard pattern of brownish red and they are not very big.
Stiff Pen Shell
Stiff pen shell can grow up to 12" long and can produce black pearls.
The perfect time for shelling is after a storm. The rough waters and storm usually wash up amazing nature treasures. If you live close to Cayo Costa, make sure you schedule in a trip.
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