Shelling on Sanibel with “Shellebrity” Pam Rambo, Iloveshelling.com
Pam Rambo, shelling expert extraordinaire, based on Sanibel Island, Florida, graciously agreed to meet up with me, along with my husband, Stephen, when we were on vacation in Sanibel in early January.
I was already familiar with Pam’s very popular website, www.Iloveshelling.com, and immediately recognized her as she walked toward me dressed in her trademark turquoise – shades of the sea. “I have an hour,” she said, “so let’s go shelling!”
Our morning beach walk was along the shore fronting the Sanibel Inn, our base of operations during our stay on the small island known for its abundance of shells, located just across the Causeway from Ft. Myers. I was immediately impressed with Pam’s trained “eagle eye” as she honed in on a tiny wentletrap, a miniscule white beauty about the size of my little fingernail, half-buried in the sand.
I had read a recent blog post on her website about finding wentletraps near the Sanibel lighthouse, but never dreamed that I would find one of my own (thanks to Pam), and, before the hour was up, a second “mini” would be sighted and retrieved from the shore.
Pam called Virginia Beach, Virginia, home during her growing up years and it was there that she developed a lifelong love of shelling, along with the rest of her family. It was also where she later met her husband, Clark, who shares her enthusiasm for shelling. They were married in 1996.
After vacationing on Sanibel and Captiva Islands multiple times and falling more and more in love with the area, they made the move to Sanibel, one of the world’s best destinations for shelling, in 2001. “I was in shell heaven!” Pam said.
In late 2009, she debuted her website to give her an outlet to blog about her passion for shelling, providing tips for other shellers, seashell identification, and ways she has used her artistic talent to create beautiful works of shell art.
While Pam and Clark rarely miss a day spending time combing the beach for whatever treasures may have found their way to shore, they also have traveled the world to other locations and brought home shells from the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, British Virgin Islands, Belize, Cuba, Nova Scotia, Japan and Thailand. A trip to the Seychelles Islands is next on their list.
In the short time I spent with Pam on our walk at the water’s edge, she spotted a beautiful starfish, which we admired, photographed and returned to the sea, as well as a sea urchin, covered with red spines. One hard and fast rule about shelling on Sanibel is that all shells with living inhabitants, live starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars, or whatever, must be returned to the sea (or left on the beach for the tides to return them to their saltwater home).
I shared with her my desire to find the big shells, like I had seen others find on Sanibel beaches. Where were the best places to go, and when? Lighthouse Beach, where I’d seen her find the tiny wentletraps, in a blog post on her site? Bowman’s Beach or Blind Pass, two others that seemed to always be mentioned as “best beaches for shelling?”
While she agreed that all of these were great places for shelling, she impressed on me the value of just accepting whatever was brought to my attention, whatever nature washed to shore or could be found in the shallows at that particular time on the beach. Seeing how Pam finds joy in the discovery of a perfect “mini,” (as shellers call them), or the color in the dozens of scallop shells that had accumulated in one area of the beach, helped me to change my perspective and to better appreciate the beauty all around us and the joy of discovery. Calico scallops seemed to be the shell of the day as we found them in abundance in many shades and sizes.
The larger shells often come in after a storm, she said, and a few weeks after our return, sure enough, several storms passed through that deposited piles of shells, urchins, starfish and other sea creatures on beaches throughout the island.
Of course, it helps to go at low tide, when whatever the waves have carried in will still be visible on the shore, but like anything worth waiting for, patience and perseverance are qualities worth developing if you are serious about shelling.
For those planning a visit, try to time it when you can join in on one of Pam’s iLoveShelling Beach Combing Adventure Tours, either to Cayo Costa Island via Captiva Cruises or Big Hickory Island via Sight Sea-R Cruises. (Click here to be taken to the Events page on her website to find dates and how to book a tour.
My time on Sanibel didn’t coincide with one of her shelling trip dates, but I am already planning a return trip with lots more time devoted to shelling.
For more info on shelling, visit iLoveshelling.com
Thinking of planning a visit to the Ft. Myers/Sanibel area? Visit FortMyers-Sanibel.com
Why is Sanibel Island such a world class shelling destination? The 12-mile barrier island has an unusual coastline that runs west to east instead of north to south. Following a storm, waves and Gulf currents bring in multiple species of shells and sea life.