Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

Shell Games

Sanibel starfishOn the Gulf edge of south Florida, just a bridge away from Fort Myers, Sanibel Island is a shell-collecting singularity.

The thin island’s southern coast catches a confluence of waves, winds, and currents that drive bazillions of shells onto the beach. Word has it that some locals, in order to beat each day’s thousands of touristic beachcombers, get up just before dawn and walk the shores wearing headlamps in a posture known as the sanibel beachSanibel stoop” looking for rarities.

The shells, in addition to their huge number—literally covering the sand in places—very often still contain living scallops, mussels, conches, or other mollusca incognita. It should be an all-you-can-eat bird buffet, but strangely, the gulls were almost entirely absent.

One family we passed was picking up scallops and tossing themold conch back into the surf. (Live ones sporadically open and close their shells…my guess is it’s an attempt to move into water.) When the mother became aware of my curious eye, she explained, “We’re saving them.” Looking at the thousands of scallopini within sight, I commiserated, “Big job.”

Here’s the well-traveled conch I found.

Sanibel Island. Well worth the beach walk.

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