Shelling Pensacola Beach in Fall
By Katie King
Pensacola Beach in fall is a beachcomber’s heaven, providing a unique experience unlike any other time of the year. When the cooler weather comes in it sweeps away the humidity and clarifies the air in a way that makes our sand, sky and water just pop.
For beachcombers desiring to add to their seashell collections, now is a great time of year to look for bivalves, snails, hermit crabs, sand dollars and many other species of invertebrates along the shoreline. The beach is less trafficked too, so it’s possible to find a long stretch of the island all to yourself.
Want to try your hand at sea-shelling? Here are a few tips to get you started:
Go at low tide — thanks to tidal action and low surf, early morning is the perfect time to get out and hunt for those shells that washed up overnight. Winter low tides can push the Gulf waters past the tidal shelf, where shells tend to collect.
Check the swash zone – the calm after the storm is another great time to hunt through the broken and small shells that get trapped along the swash zone — where the waves wash over the beach. Tiny lightning whelks and turbans, colorful coquina and fragile baby’s ears are frequently found in the swash zone.
Bring the right gear — you can sometimes find good shells on the beach, but to find the best specimens, you’ll need to venture into the shallow water just offshore. To do that, you’ll need a sand flea rake to sift the shells that are just below the surface and a mesh bag to store your finds. Beautiful, sand-colored shark eyes, bay and calico scallops, gray and white augers, cloudy periwinkles and scotch bonnet are often found in knee-deep water.
Please be humane — only collect unoccupied shells. Mollusks use a lot of energy building their shells. And hermit crabs use a lot of energy stealing them. Sand dollars that are bleached white are fossilized and up for grabs, but those dark gray in color and fuzzy are still alive, so please admire and then put back.
Identify your finds — learning about what shells you found is half the fun! A great resource for learning about the many species of marine invertebrates found on Pensacola Beach is the Pensacola Beach Eco Trail website.