Little can compare to the peace and serenity found along the North Carolina coast during the winter months. Despite the cooler temperatures, residents and guests are frequently spotted taking a winter stroll along our barren stretch of sand, or sitting in quiet meditation while they take in the crisp blue skies our winter brings.
What few realize, however, is that winter is also the perfect time for another favorite pastime along the beach – shelling.
“Shelling is best in the winter because of the weather,” said Everett Long of Beaufort, vice president of the NC Shell Club. “Cool weather keeps the crowds indoors, and only the dedicated shellers wander out in the cold and wind to find that one shell everyone in North Carolina wants … the Scotch Bonnet. Winter storms bring the shells from the Gulf Stream closer to our shores, and the likelihood of finding a shell from the Caribbean Sea is very good.”
The early bird definitely gets the worm when it comes to shell hunting, advises the Shell Club. Hitting the beach early in the morning, or immediately following a storm increases your chance of finding the best the beach has to offer. Take your time, they suggest, and look closely. Sometimes the smallest of shells can be the most interesting to add to your collection. But those with keen eyes, a little patience and a tolerance for the cooler weather will find a plethora of olives, sand dollars, whelks, baby’s ears and more.
It’s always important to practice proper etiquette while searching for shells. The NC Shell Club suggests the following:
- Collect only what you need. Do not allow yourself to be caught up in the excitement of the moment and make poor choices about which shells you need to keep.
- Protect the shell population and collect conservatively. Do not collect living juveniles. Do not take everything you find. Collect specimens only from areas where many of its kind are living. Select one or two representative specimens. Note: This applies also to group collecting. Everyone in a large group collecting one or two living shells has the same effect as one person taking a bucketful!
- Leave the habitat as undisturbed as possible. Return things to the way they were when you entered the habitat. For example, replace any rocks you turned over. Place the mollusks you decide not to keep back into the environment so they can recover and continue their life cycle.
- If collecting for scientific purposes, take careful notes regarding the environment and the behavior of the mollusk. The specimen has little scientific value without this information.
- Learn local regulations. State and national parks, as well as marine preserves, generally have laws against taking live shells. Collecting commercially important species may have additional regulations governing when and where they can be collected and who can do the collecting. There are even regulations regarding the collection of dead shells. Be sure you know the requirements where you are collecting. And, be aware there may even be international regulations that could affect your collecting practices.
- Respect private property fronting the waters. The waters are public but the land often is not.
- Appreciate any gifts of nature that come your way. A living shell tossed ashore by waves is dying. There is little chance to return the animal to a habitat where it will recover. Hurling these shells into the ocean is not an effective method of returning them where they can recover! This process is the natural death process and provides the occasional opportunity for a lucky shell collector to add an especially nice shell to his or her collection.
- Recognize there are many reasons to collect. Aesthetics are what drive the interest in shells for many collectors. Choosing a shell because it would look great on your bookshelf or mantle can be a compelling reason for collecting it.