How to clean seashells: Anna Maria Island Insider Tips

seashells bradenton beach
Good day at the beach!

Day 3 at your Anna Maria Island rental and it is starting to resemble a seashore in its own right. Bags of moon snails, calico scallops, kittens paw, and banded tulips spill out onto the kitchen table as though they are trying to escape. You even managed to find a few of the elusive sand dollar and even one sea fan skeleton. There are at least two bags dedicated to the coquina shells because your daughter says “they look purply and I want to make necklaces for my friends”.

It is a beautiful day and you have the window open to enjoy the smell of the ocean breeze when something less pleasant catches a ride on the air. After a moment of investigation you realize that it is the bags of beach bounty that seem to be the source of the offending odor.

Have no fear, the pool water is here! I learned this on my first vacation to Anna Maria Island before we moved here. We had so many shells from Bradenton Beach that I think we paid twice the baggage fee on the way home!

That same bucket you used to make the epic sand art earlier in the day can come in handy once again. Start by brushing most of the sand out, then rinsing with water to not get sand in the pool. Fill half way with water, then simply add shells so that they are all completely immersed. Leave overnight and voila most of that ‘not quite the beach smell you like’ is gone! No pool because you went for a direct waterfront property? No worries. Some hydrogen peroxide and water from your local Publix at a 10:1 ratio in the same multipurpose bucket will also do the trick.

Fast forward to unpacking the luggage after the flight home. You now have your own personal collection of bubble shells, fighting conch, tritons trumpet, and yes, even lightning whelk. Because, as your son astutely pointed out, you didn’t have those ones yet.

As you sort through your treasures you find some perfect specimens. Alas, more often than not they have a bit of a green tinge and a crusty, leathery outer coating in places. That simply won’t do! You have big decorating plans for those shells. The good news is that there are simple ways to get those shells back to their former luster.

Conch
Crusty!

The eco friendly ways~

1~The miracle of Vinegar! Simple, easy and cheap. Poor a small amount of vinegar into a bowl or cup. Use a soft toothbrush saturated with the vinegar and gently scrub the shell. You may have to do this several times. Then wash with soap and water. Don’t soak in the vinegar though, it will cause a reaction between the acid in the vinegar and the calcium carbonate of the shells. The shells will actually dissolve. It is kind of fun to watch it happen to at least one though:-)

2~ Another cleaning wonder is hydrogen peroxide. Simply put the shells in a bowl and poor enough peroxide to sufficiently cover the shells and let soak for several hours or until a film covers the top. The peroxide has invasive properties making easy work of any bacterial cleanup. Rinse thoroughly and place to dry on a towel.

The not-so eco friendly ways~

1~ Soak your seashells in a 50/50 solution of bleach and water. The length of time depends on the type of seashells and the number of seashells being cleaned. Just be sure to remove them when the periostracum (that crusty, leathery covering that I mentioned earlier) is gone. I am not a huge fan of bleaching because the shell can absorb the smell. It can also lighten the color. If you try bleaching your shells, try not to leave them in the solution too long.

2~ Without question muriatic acid is the fastest and easiest way to clean your shells. It will almost magically strip the shell of any barnacles or algae and bring the color to back to life! Use only glass jars and plastic tongs due to the caustic reaction with muriatic acid and metals. Wear gloves and eye protection. In your first jar place 3/4 of a cup of water and 1/4 of muriatic acid. Fill the second jar with plain water. Take the plastic tongs and dip in the first jar for about 3-4 seconds then immediately place into the jar with water and place on paper towel or rags to dry. Be careful not to splash any of the liquid onto your skin. It can cause a nasty little burn. You can pick up muriatic acid at a local hardware store or pool supply company. Some states won’t allow you to flush hydrochloric acid unless you neutralize it first. Neutralize hydrochloric acid with baking soda. Wearing your protective garments and working in a ventilated area well away from children, pets, heat and metals, prepare a base mix. Mix 1 lb of baking soda with plenty of water. Slowly add the hydrochloric acid. The mixture will fizz. Add more baking soda until the fizzing stops. This means the hydrochloric acid is neutralized and can now be flushed down the sink with large quantities of water. I have only used this method once. It made me extremely nervous to work with such a strong acid.

There seem to be about a million and one ways to clean shells. My neighbor uses ants to remove any decaying material. I have heard that boiling works well. Some sites will tell you to bury them or freeze them. One of my friends puts her shells in the dishwasher. I have not tried any of those yet….. but you never know. If you know of another effective way please let me know by commenting below.

Now that you have a treasure trove of clean shells check our next blog at islandreal.com for suggestions on how to preserve them and some fabulous costal design tips using your new collection!

Your guide to shelling on Anna Maria Island beaches!

Shell on Anna Maria Island Beach

It is storming on the island today. The kind of storm where the rain seems to be falling horizontally and the palms sway with such exuberance that you think they may snap. That is great news for anyone who is interested in shelling on any of Anna Maria Island beaches.

During a storm the wind and wave action can wash up all sorts of treasures. From fossils and bits of coral to some of the more rare specimens. The longer the period of time between storms, the more will wash up. When the waters are calm the shells accumulate on the edges of the sandbars. A good ole tropical storm will break up even the most dense aggregate and send them toward shore. If you walk the beaches hours, even a day, after a good storm you are in for a treat. More than likely you will wander across little hills of shells scattered on the sand. Spend some time gently sifting through the collection. Some of the best finds are at the very bottom!

The tide plays a significant roll in the amount of shells to be found on any given beach as well. You will often find more shells 2-3 hours prior to low tide or an hour or so after. You can access a simple tide chart for Anna Maria Island here. If you want to get really technical, the shelling may be even better if you can go the days closest to the full moon. With the full moon comes the increased gravitational pull that can cause tidal extremes. With those extremes comes the shells that are normally still under water.

Don’t be afraid to do the shell shuffle! I have made some of my greatest finds that way. Stand in the water at about waist high and slowly, gently dig around with your toes in the sand. Proceed with caution, some may be sharp!

While enjoying the bounty the ocean has provided, make sure you do your part to protect it. Any garbage is detrimental to the delicate ecosystem of our oceans. Bring two bags, one for shells and one for litter. Sometimes the litter can be its own treasure. You can make a game of it, like a trash treasure hunt. If you want to get really creative make a scavenger hunt list for each member of the shelling group and the winner gets a triple scoop of ice cream from any of Anna Maria Islands fabulous ice cream shops!

You will find shells on any of Anna Maria Islands fabulous beaches. Most people you ask will have their favorite spot. My personal favorite is the path less traveled, Bean Point on the northern part of the island. If you opt to stay in one of the Anna Maria Island waterfront rentals your favorite spot just may be your ‘front yard’. Happy Shelling!

Beach Combing Anna Maria Island

Shells found during recent renourishment
Shells found during recent renourishment

Anna Maria Island – A wide variety of seashells, and beach combing goodies can be found along Anna Maria Island beaches. The best beach combing is during low tide, after a storm or strong high tides. A special delight for the hobby beachcomber is a renourishment of the island beaches when the sand is getting pumped onto shore to rebuild the eroded coastline. This year’s project was no exception. Just remember living shells are better to be placed back in the water. There are state laws in place to protect the live organism and the harvest of the Bahama Starfish and just the possession of a live Queen Conch is prohibited altogether.

To identify your treasures visit this website of the Bailey-Matthew Shell Museum and you will find a detailed description of all Southwestern Florida shells.

A common misconception is the sand dollar. It is a living animal that is related to sea urchins. Check out this fascinating video about a moving sand dollar and you will realize they are indeed living creatures.

If you are planning your next island vacation consider staying at this Gulf front cottage on the North end of the island and be the first on the beach to start collecting your free souvenirs or practice this little tongue twister “she sells seashells at the seashore” in the meantime.

Best Beaches For Splendid Seashells On Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island has become famous for its pristine beaches, calm azure waters and unlimited Florida sunshine, but it has so much more than that to offer. People come here from all over the globe to get SEASHELLS!  Not just collectors or merchants, but real people like you and me can find absolute treasures.  Some of my favorites to find, and possibly the easiest are lion’s paws, tiger paws, clam shells, turkey wings and coquinas. The ones I love to find, and I sure everyone feels the same, are sand dollars!  You have to go pretty far out to get them intact, and you have to have some time to spend collecting them from the sea floor. Here is a list of Anna Maria Island’s best shell finding beaches.

1. Manatee Public Beach at the end of SR64 – I am a fifth generation Bradenton Florida native, and this is the beach I grew up on. My parents brought me to this beach for the first time when I was only 6 months old. I learned to swim here, sunbathe here and my favorite beach activity to collect seashells.

2. Anna Maria City Beach at the end of White Avenue – Not only is the beach at the end of this road unspoiled it is mostly secluded. I remember finding seashells here that hadn’t even been touched by other beach goers. This is definitely where I am always able to find unbroken shells.

3. Bayfront Park on North Bay Boulevard – I find that this is a good place to find larger shells because there are not a lot of waves the on the bayside of Anna Maria Island. If you catch this area at its lowest tide you will be able to find shells like none other anywhere on the island.

4. Bean Point on North Shore Drive – This is a place easily missed by most vacationers to Anna Maria Island, but locals like me love to explore the northern most beaches of Anna Maria Island. I found a beaut of a large pink and white conch shell that my daughter swears she hears mermaids singing inside.

5. Coquina Public Beach on South Gulf Drive – The south end of Anna Maria Island is a great place to not only find seashells, but sharks teeth as well! Some great advice I got from a fellow local was to keep my eye on the water line, and that “shark’s teeth will tumble while seashells roll”. I have found the most sharks teeth just remembering that phrase!