Shelling and Fishing Charters in the Florida Keys

Gorgeous variety of seashells, coral, and sea biscuits from the Florida Keys.

Seashells in the Florida Keys? You bet! You just have to know where to go. As a native of South Florida, I’ve been visiting the Keys since I could drive (around 1981). My friends and I would pile in my dad’s souped-up Firebird and head down to catch some rays by the pool at Holiday Isle. Nowadays, I pretty much hide from the sun by wearing a big hat and a long-sleeve shirt. Ok, back to shelling charters!

Bamboo Charters is who you want to call. Captain Matt will take you out snorkeling and to check out areas known for shells on the oceanside and bayside. I have better luck on the ocean side and the water doesn’t have to be deep at all. Captain Matt also has a degree in marine biology so he knows his stuff and is just a super nice guy (and good human who truly cares about the environment). Half-day and full-day charters are available. Of course, he specializes in fishing but he loves shells as much as we do!

I hired Captain Matt for the first time several years ago, to take my sister and I out on the water. He was excited to explore and see what we could find. We ended up on a shallow reef and the goodies that we found were pretty epic. Cowries, sea biscuits, sunrise tellins, sea urchins, cones, and the most gorgeous bright yellow Antillean scallop that I’ve ever seen. (Thank you, Broward Shell Club, for confirming what type of scallop this was!) Photos of our beautiful treasures are below.

So if you want to get out on the water and go snorkeling, swimming, shelling, fishing, or just enjoy a spectacular Keys’ sunset, call Captain Matt at Bamboo Charters.

Cowries, sea biscuits, sunrise tellins, sea urchins, cones, and the most gorgeous bright yellow Antillean scallop…

Sanibel Island Beach Resort is OPEN

Mounds of seashells piled on the shoreline behind Sanibel Island Beach Resort

As Sanibel and Captiva recover from Hurricane Ian, restaurants and resorts are opening slowly but surely. I recently stayed at the Sanibel Island Beach Resort on Middle Gulf and loved the experience. I paid a Florida resident rate (around $240) per night but the amenities are nice — and you’re right on the beach. This is where the old Holiday Inn was, now this resort has a new name and new everything, including a relaxing pool bar and an onsite restaurant call BRGR Kitchen & Bar, open for lunch and dinner.

They have standard rooms, completely redone, doubles, queens and kings. The amenities are good. I love the bathroom with its backlit mirror and amazing shower with subway tile. They supply you with shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, and soap. Instead of a standard plastic card hotel key, you can wear a comfortable bracelet that also unlocks your door. It’s soft and flat and won’t snag on anything – and it’s even more comfy than the ones at Walt Disney World.

The beach is awesome, right on Middle Gulf, so you’re close to the lighthouse and close to the west end. Shelling has been fantastic. I know some folks say that shelling in the summer is slack, but not while I was there. I’m talking mountains of seashells, perfect for sitting on top of and just sifting through for hours.

I didn’t eat at the restaurant, I’m sad to say, but the menu offered salads, wraps, burgers, sliders, etc. As I write this, they only have a few Yelp reviews, but they’re five stars! I’ll have to try it later this summer.

Another cool bonus is that they give you a complimentary shelling bag when you check in! I love that! The netting allows the water to drip out but the shells stay in. So, if you’re looking for a nice, clean place on Sanibel that’s right on the water with a beautiful pool area, onsite dining, super friendly people, and a caring staff, try Sanibel Island Beach Resort located at 1231 Middle Gulf Dr. Sanibel Island, Florida 33957. Give them a call at (239) 472-4123.  Let me know what you think!

Pool bar area
Pool bar area with gulf views
path to the beach
Sandy path to the beach
mounds of seashells piled on the shoreline
mounds of seashells piled on the shoreline at Sanibel
Beautiful shoreline behind the Sanibel Island Beach Resort.
Walk for miles on the beach behind the resort.
view of standard room with double beds
clean and bright hotel rooms
well appointment bathroom at the Sanibel Island Beach Resort
Complimentary shelling bag given at check in.
Complimentary shelling bag given at check in!
Photo op at the resort that incudes a surf board.
Here’s a fun place to take a souvenir photo, standing on the surfboard with the resort name in the background.
beautiful sunrise through the sea oats on the beach
Sunrise through the sea oats
Live whelk that went back into the water and a view of the comfortable wrist key card.
Found this beautiful live whelk (that went back into the water!) but you can see the comfortable wrist key card.

Janthina (purple sea snails) in the Florida Keys

a purple sea snail known as janthina, with its bubble raft attached.

When the winds blow, the shorelines of the Florida Keys tend to get sprinkled with delicate, beautiful purple sea snails known as janthina janthina. That’s not a typo, they’re so pretty, you have to say the name twice. Ha ha.

I’d been looking for these lavender jewels for years and it was my big brother who looked down and found one in the weed line at Old Settlers Park in Tavernier. When he gave it to me and told me I could keep it, I was thrilled!

Then we really started to search and wowza — we found a handful. I’m glad I decided to take more of these empty shells than I thought I might need, as half of them broke on the way home. Ugh. Don’t you hate that?! When I say they’re delicate, they are super fragile. Even just rinsing them under water to clean them is a task as they shells break apart.

According to Wiki, “Janthina janthina is a species of holoplanktonic sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Epitoniidae.” They are also known as violet sea snails or purple sea snails — and these pastel beauties will eat just about anything. (And turtles like to eat them since they float on ocean currents on mucus-y “bubble rafts” that trap air.) Another cool fact is that they are a pelagic animal — that means it lives its life in the open ocean.

Have you ever found a janthina janthina?

Legend of the Sand Dollar

Sand dollars, dried.
Beautiful pile of sand dollars.

I love this poem. It really gives you so much info in a lovely way. Just to be clear, I didn’t write it! We made this poem into beautiful bookmarks for my nephew and his bride’s Florida wedding reception; guests took them home as a sunny reminder. (Ask me how we made place card holders from seashells and a Dremel tool!)

The Legend of the Sand Dollar

There’s a lovely little legend

That I would like to tell,

Of the birth and death of Jesus

Found in this lovely shell.

If you examine it closely

You’ll see that you find here

Four nail holes and a fifth one

Made by a Roman’s spear.

On one side the Easter Lily,

Its center is the star

That appeared unto the shepherds

And led them from afar.

The Christmas Poinsettia

Etched on the other side

Reminds us of His birthday

Our happy Christmastide.

Now break the center open

And here will release

The five white doves awaiting

To spread Good Will and Peace.

This simple little symbol

Christ left for you and me,

To help us spread His Gospel

Through all eternity.

Bookmarks made from the Sand Dollar Legend poem.
Bookmarks made from the Sand Dollar Legend poem.

Above is a photo of the bookmarks that we made for the wedding. I got a hole punch from Michael’s Crafts (it’s a Martha Stewart item), that makes a cutout of a sand dollar (or starfish, depending on your view). We glued it onto sparkly paper stock, also purchased at Michael’s. A little hot glue and we were in business. They are so pretty in person.

Double Rainbow and an Imperial Venus

Double rainbow

The one good thing about rain and thunderstorms is that they produce shells like crazy, AND rainbows. This double rainbow made its appearance as we were shelling at low tide at Blind Pass. Pretty, right? (That’s my niece, Kaitlyn, making the funny face as she didn’t know I was taking the photo!)

Here are a few of our finds:

fighting conchs
Fighting conchs by the handful

While those fighting conchs are nice (and empty!), here is my favorite: an imperial venus.

Imperial Venus
Imperial Venus

I’m going to do a post on these elusive shells (at least here on Sanibel, imperial venus clam shells are elusive)! This one is super pretty, and glossy, as it must be newly empty. Ever found anything good under a rainbow?

Fun Facts About Sand Dollars

Sand dollars, dried.
Sand dollars, dried.

I love sand dollars. I have been lucky enough to find several washed up on the shore of Sanibel and Captiva over the years, nearly white from being faded by the sun. I’ve also found lots and lots of LIVE ones, which are ILLEGAL to keep in Lee County, Florida. Do you know how to tell the difference?

First, here are some fun facts about these beautiful and mystic animals:

  • Sand dollars are members of the Phylum Echinodermata family (in Greek that means “spiny skin.”
  • When a sand dollar dies and its spines fall off, its skeletal remains (the sand dollar you find on shore) is called a “test.”
  • Sand dollars move along the bottom of the sea by using their spines (tiny hairs called CILIA). Unlike their other relative, the star fish, that moves by using the tubes on its feet.
  • Over 600 sand dollars can live in one square yard.
  • The life span of a sand dollar is six to 10 years.
  • Sand dollars have a mouth with five “teeth” that can pulverize/chew tiny plants and animals.
  • The mouth of a sand dollar is called an “Aristotle’s lantern.” (If you’ve ever shaken a dried sand dollar and heard things rattling inside, it’s the five teeth – also known as the five doves in the Legend of the Sand Dollar!)
  • In calm water, sand dollars stand up. They lie flat in rough waters. (How cool would it be to see an entire ‘army’ of sand dollars standing on end, only partially buried?)

Sand dollar found on the shore.
Sand dollar found on the shore.

Is the sand dollar alive or dead?

MOVEMENT: Place the sand dollar in your palm. Look at its spines (the little hairs that cover the animal, called CILIA). If they’re moving, it’s alive.

YELLOW STAIN: Hold the sand dollar in your hand for a minute, if it stains your skin yellow, it’s alive. (That substance is called echinochrome. It is harmless to humans.)

HAIRY OR SMOOTH? Dead sand dollars are smooth and free of their spines/hairs. If it’s hairy, let it bury – place it in the water.

COLOR: Sand dollars fade to gray or white when they die.  When alive, they can be dark brown to purplish-reddish.

Live sand dollar in the water. See its hairy edges?
Live sand dollar in the water. See its hairy edges?

I have the best luck finding sand dollars early in the morning – the early bird definitely gets the washed-ashore sand dollar. Also, try the out-islands, like Cayo Costa. Happy hunting!

 

 

 

 

Beachview Cottages on Sanibel

View of Beachview Cottages
View of Beachview Cottages

A colorful cottage right on the sand, steps from the Gulf of Mexico. What more could you ask for on Sanibel? Beachview Cottages have exactly what I want when I’m looking for accommodations on the beach – location and good rates. We stayed in one of their smaller units but it was still plenty big. It had a full kitchen, dining room table, separate living area with couch and a bedroom (no door, just a tall wall separating it from the rest of the unit) with two full beds.

Summer rates are good, and they have internet specials so be sure to check out their website (link attached above). Their current special is “When you reserve a room for 3 nights or more from April 10, 2016 through August 31, 2016, we’ll give you a 4th night free on select cottages!” Now, that’s a deal, folks! Did I mention that they’re pet-friendly? Yes, they are! See their exclusions and rules on their site.

Each unit has its own parking space(s) and their location on West Gulf Drive is excellent – away from the condo crowds of East Gulf Drive. (Nothing against East Gulf…I love that side, too, but I am a little partial to less people on the beach.)

Anyhow, I hope you’ll check it out. This place is owned by ‘Tween Waters Resort & Spa and their sister resort is also right next door, West Wind Inn. All good places.

 

Little Palm Island: Luxury in the Lower Keys

Little Palm Island is luxury at every turn.
Little Palm Island is luxury at every turn.

Little Palm Island Resort & Spa in the Lower Keys is so spectacular, you’ll be pinching yourself over and over to be sure you’re not dreaming. It’s like going to the Pacific Islands — but don’t need a passport and it’s a whole lot closer! (Although you will have to take a boat or a seaplane to get there as it’s several miles offshore.)

Little Palm Island bugalow
Living area of a Little Palm Island bungalow.

This private island resort owned by Noble House sits on 5.5 acres in the Atlantic, off Little Torch Key at about Mile Marker 28.5. You can drive and leave your car at their welcome center, where a motor yacht will whisk you to the island while keeping you dry. Dolphins love to play in the wake of the boat, which is a really nice welcome. Another nice welcome is your Gumpy Slumber cocktail that you’re given upon arrival. Ohh, it’s so good!

Bedroom of a Little Palm Island bungalow.
Bedroom of a Little Palm Island bungalow.

Little Palm Island is totally private, only 30 stand-alone bungalows are available and each offers the ideal blend of comfort and opulence. If you’ve never showered under the stars, you will want to try it at your bungalow. Mosquito netting drapes the beds in pure romance, and there are no phones or TVs to distract you from anything. There is also a no-cellphone rule in public areas. If you’re looking to disconnect, this resort is your answered prayer. One more thing, no one under 16 is allowed on island. Hello, babysitter? (AKA grandma.)

There is one restaurant onsite that will serve all your meals and you can even dine with your feet in the sand. Key deer sometimes come wandering through, right by your table, or right by your pool chaise lounger. These are tiny deer about the size of a dog, and they’re only found in the Lower Keys. They just add another coolness factor that you can’t find anywhere else.

Dine with your feet in the sand at Little Palm Island.
All new meaning to oceanside dining at Little Palm Island.

While you’re here, you can take out kayaks, Boston Whaler skiffs, book a dive trip to Looe Key (amazing!), play giant chess, relax in the sun, nap in the shade, take an astronomy class, swim in the lagoon-style pool, and just enjoy the peacefulness of your privileged surroundings. I almost forgot to mention the onsite spa. It’s small but good things come in small packages.

Luxury and privacy isn’t cheap, but it is worth it. It’s in a word, unforgettable. And you never know who might see here, after all, presidents and movie stars tend to frequent its secluded shores.

 

 

True Tulip in Tavernier

Big true tulip found in Tavernier.
Big true tulip found in Tavernier.

I took a drive to the Keys to get my feet-in-the-water fix and I’m so glad I did. While wading in the very shallow water at the Wild Bird Center, I found this beauty.

back of tulip

It’s the largest one I’ve ever found in the Keys. There were plenty of mini shells like the one below right next to shore, too. Love the black and white coloring!

black and white auger
Black and white auger from the Florida Keys.

I haven’t seen a black and white auger, but it sure looks like an auger to me. It had a tiny crab in it so back in the water it went.

Speaking of crabs, after wading, I drove home and when I went looking for my tulip shell in my backseat, it wasn’t there. Say what? Then I spied it, under my seat. It had crawled away! Yep, there was a stinkin’ hermit crab hiding REALLY GOOD in that big tulip.

meet crazy joe

Since I wasn’t near the beach, I ran him to my saltwater fish tank. Looks like we have a new family member. We named him Crazy Joe, from the character in the kids’ movie, Shark Tale. I put other big shells in the tank for when he needs to trade up.

 

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

junonia wheel
Wheel of Junonias – all sizes imaginable

Ok shellers, if you haven’t been to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, you simply must visit! It’s not the same museum you visited years ago, it has so many new additions and it’s full of world record seashells and SO much more.

One of my favorite new things is the Tank Talks. They now have marine biologists on staff that will introduce you to the world of shells like you’ve never known. It is so educational and fascinating. Tank Talks are free with your admission and happen daily.

National Shell Museum sign

Another new item is their daily beach walks. Sign up in advance and take a walk on the beach with a marine biologist. How great is that? You’ll meet up right near the Island Inn on Sanibel and you’ll get an amazing hands-on learning experience. Prices are currently $10 adults / $7 children. Plus, you’ll get half-off admission to the Shell Museum.

There are many intriguing exhibits inside the museum as well – and there is something for ALL ages. Yes, they have a special kids’ area too.

Interior shot of the center of the museum.
Interior shot of the center of the museum.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Children 4 and under: FREE
Youth 5-17: $5.00
Adults 18+: $11.00

(Closed Thanksgiving Day. Open Noon to 4 on New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day & Christmas Day.)

Now, go to shell!