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By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea ... For grownups and kids alike, just being at the shore is enough. You can make the beach even more enjoyable by giving a sense of mission to the sandy proceedings. Go on a seashelling spree -- you'll have treasure-hunting good fun and come home with marine mementos that really tell a story. Your possibilities are as expansive as the miles of public coastline.Where to Go
Anywhere the sea meets the land, you can find seashells. The United States boasts one of the world's most famous seashelling areas in Florida. Near Fort Myers, on the Sunshine State's Gulf Coast, Sanibel and Captiva islands attract people from all over to their shell-laden shores. But glorious days of exploring and collecting can be had along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Maine, along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas, and along the Pacific Coast from California to Washington. Don't forget Hawaii and Alaska!
Check on restrictions on collecting. A lot of coastline is not open to the public. You should either be on public beaches or have permission to be on private beaches. Be sure that the state, park, or beach does not prohibit seashelling. Some areas prohibit the collection of certain species or limit the places or time of year you can collect. Check with local officials to see if there are restrictions on shell collecting in the area you're planning to go at the time of year you'll be there. Find out if you need a permit.
Invest in a good field guide. You might even want to choose one that's appropriate for the kids and a separate one for grownups. Reading your field guide with the kids before you go will pique your kids' interest and enhance the excitement of the trip. Once you're at the beach, knowing what kind of shell you've discovered and learning about the animal that lived inside it make seashelling even more enjoyable.
A good guide for kids is Seashells, Crabs and Sea Stars, from the Young Naturalist Field Guides series (Gareth Stevens Publishing, Milwaukee, 1998). It's chock-full of information about many species of sea animals that inhabit shells as well as seashell-related activities and tips.
For guides for grownups, search your favorite online bookseller or bookstores for seashelling books or seashell field guides -- there are good ones that cover the entire country or specific regions or states. And Read EHow.com's article "eHow to Choose a Field Guide for Seashells" for lots of helpful suggestions about looking for guides that are user-friendly, proportioned practically, well-illustrated or clearly photographed. The article also lists several guides that fit the bill.
Seashells are the outer coverings -- the "exoskeletons" -- of sea animals called mollusks. The shell is actually a chalky juice substance that hardens to protect the soft body of marine creatures like clams, snails, and oysters. All these mollusks live inside the shells or carry them on their backs. When mollusks die, their empty shells wash up on the beach. Not all shells on the sand are empty, though, and it's very important not to disturb or to take shells that still have live animals inside. You can often tell if an animal lives inside by checking for a slimy substance deep inside the opening; the slimy material may well be a sea critter. If you're not certain, ask a more experienced sheller or talk to a lifeguard or environmentalist on the beach.A Walk on the Beach
Walking on the beach is a glorious experience, and it's even more so when you and the kids are on the hunt for seashells. Their myriad shapes, designs, and colors treat the eyes and inspire the imagination. Heading down the beach at low tide in beautiful filtered light with your bag of seashells, you feel like you're in an impressionist painting. Wading knee deep and slogging back to shore might conjure up images of Captain Nemo in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Stop for a while and sit in one spot in the wet sand, just sifting through what's in reach. When you find shells, you instantly become a naturalist. Turn their wet spiral, fluted, and scalloped shapes over in your hands. Say words like "whelk," "cockle," "quahog," "coquina," "urchin," and "barnacle." Learn about marine personalities like fiddler, hermit, and ghost crabs; and about mollusk attributes like slimy feet and raspy teeth. Watch behavior like boring and burrowing. Marvel at the intricate beauty of a sand dollar. Finding seashells is as easy as patiently opening up to the amazing and ever-changing seashore. The treasure is all around you in nature and in the moments of wonder you share as a family.
Read "eHow to Collect Seashells" for steps, tips, warnings, and suggestions from users for everything from taking an extra plastic grocery bag to pick up trash as you beach comb to making art projects with shells after you get home.
A day of seashelling requires the same kind of preparation as a day at the beach, with some special additions.