Beachcombing is one of the easiest, most fun and least expensive ways to spend your time on the white sands of Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s such an adventure never knowing what you’ll stumble upon on your search for coastal treasure. So what are the top treasures to be found on the Gulf beaches of Florida’s western coastline? We’re glad you asked. Here are the top three.
1. Seashells on the Indian Rocks & Indian Shores Beaches
The good news is that there are more shells found on the West Coast of Florida than on the east all thanks to the gradual slope of the shore and the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico, which cause shells to roll to the beaches with minimum damage. Barrier island beaches like Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores see their fair share of seashells on any given day. Shelling on any beach offers up a new adventure every time you embark upon it, since you never know what Mother Nature will turn up. Among the strewn shells, you can find some real coastal treasures. All you need is a bag or bucket to keep your shells in, a keen eye and a willing spirit. You might want to bring a small shovel or digging spade with you, too. The advantage you have on Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores is that the crowds are less and therefore there’s more opportunity for you to find something good!
So what are the some of the most popular and sought-after shells on Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches? Here a few to keep an eye out for.
- Olive Shells: Fresh olive shells are naturally glossy because the live snail’s mantle covers the shell. In many other locations the shells are dulled by the elements, but most are still bright here on Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches.
- Paper Figs: This is a delicate shell that’s usually damaged when found in other places, but you have good odds of finding some whole ones here on Florida’s west coast beaches.
- Whelks: The lightning whelk is the one most common finds. They can get up to 16 inches long, but tend to have better color when small.
- Florida Fighting Conch: There are times when none are to be found and others when they’re abundant. In spite of their aggressive sounding name, they aren’t carnivorous. However, if you pick up a live one, they’ll put up a fight (hence the name). They’re harmless, but to the uninitiated they’re pretty startling.
- Cones: All cones are venomous. Cone snails in Florida can deliver a sting similar to a wasp or bee’s, but such an occurrence is rare. Since cones are nocturnal, staying buried in the sand under the water during the day, you’re unlikely to find a live one. Still, flipping the shell over to insure it’s empty before handling is recommended. The alphabet cone is the one most commonly found in this area.
- Scallops: There are piles of bivalves on the beaches. They are the most common type of shell found here. A sheller can easily collect all they want. However, one can be an unusual find if it originated in deep water. The pressure flattens them, creating a different look than their shallow water brethren.
- Coquina Clams: Known for their highly variable color patterns, these butterfly-looking bivalves can be found along the swash line. Other clam shells are also a common find along the Gulf Coast.
(Source: Where to Find Popular and Common Florida Shells)
2. Sea Glass on the Gulf Beaches
Ah, beautiful sea glass. An ever more rare occurrence on today’s beaches due to the move away from dumping garbage in the oceans and plastic replacing glass as a packaging material—but still a very viable coastal treasure nonetheless. The most desirable sea glass from a collector’s point of view have been tumbled in the ocean to a frosty finish and are rare in color. Warm hues like orange, yellow and red tend to be unusual, as does black. While white is a rather common color, as are brown and green. There is a wide range of colors, so it’s helpful to consult a reference chart to see just how rare the pieces you find may be.
Chances of Finding Colored Sea Glass from Most Common to Most Rare:
- Modern, Thin Sea Glass in Green, White, Clear and Brown: Your chances of finding this are about 1 in 25.
- Amber and Green Sea Glass: Your chances of finding this are about 1 in 100.
- Blue, Purple, Turquoise and Black Sea Glass: Your chances of finding this are about 1 in 1,000.
- Red, Orange and Yellow Sea Glass: Your chances of finding this are about 1 in 10,000.
- Clear, White or Green Sea Glass More Than 1-Inch Thick: Your chances of finding this type of sea glass is incredibly rare, as they typically come from shipwrecks.
For a quick reference, here’s an awesome sea glass color rarity guide for you to compare your finds to. You never know, you could have a rare piece! Either way, sea glass is a beautiful memento to take home with you as a souvenir from your beach vacation or can be made into a stunning piece of jewelry for yourself or someone else.
3. Shark Teeth on the Gulf Coast of Florida
Sometimes you’re so focused on sea shells and sea glass, that you overlook the other coastal treasure hiding in the sand—sharks’ teeth! They’re usually small and little harder to find, but they’re there. Did you know that sharks lose thousands of teeth over their lifetime? They do! Sharks are the only species that continually shed their teeth which are then replaced by new ones in a 24-hour window, so the odds of you finding some on the beach are in your favor.
So exactly what are you looking for? Well, obviously shark teeth are triangular in shape but they differ depending on the type of shark and what they eat. You’ll have to sort the shell fragment and rock sediment imposters of similar shape from the real teeth. Shark teeth tend to be glossy, so that’s another clue that you’ve found a real shark tooth and not something else. Freshly lost white teeth are quite hard to find, while the darker, fossilized teeth are much more common. You can walk and find teeth laying on the sand, dig to find them buried, or shovel buckets of shell sediment from the shoreline and search through it with a watchful eye.
Here’s a little more shark tooth identification information:
- Wide, flat teeth belong to bottom-dwelling sharks.
- Wedge-shaped teeth belong to aggressive sharks such as great whites, bull and tiger sharks.
- Skinny teeth come from sharks that need to catch slippery fish, such as mako sharks.
- Very slender, pointed teeth often come from sand sharks.
Wherever your coastal treasure hunting takes you and whatever you find, we wish you much success and memorable adventures. Good luck!
Your Florida Gulf Beach Shelling Guide
The Most Popular Seashells on the Gulf Coast of Florida & Shell Identification Guide
What’s the best coastal treasure you’ve found while combing Indian Rocks and Indian Shores beaches? A Florida Fighting Conch Shell? Rare-colored sea glass? Fossilized shark teeth? Something else? We want to know! Drop us a comment or photo in the comment section.