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24 Feb 2020
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Best of Oak Island

Young and old alike, if you’ve ever been to the beach you’ve likely practiced the art of Conchology – the hobby of collecting shells. Looking for that perfect sea shell to commemorate that perfect day is a favorite past time of Oak Island locals and visitors to our area alike. The ability to take something home to represent the ocean’s beauty and its mystery is truly special.

At its worst, shelling leads to scenic long walks along the beach and at its best, it can yield some pretty fantastic beach finds. Oak Island NC is a wonderful place to search for and to collect sea shells, and with a few key pieces of information, you’ll take your hunt beyond luck to the realm of success.

Best Oak Island Beaches for Shell Hunting
caswell beach nc

Familiarize yourself with the area in which you’re shelling. On Oak Island, most experienced conchologists would say that Caswell Beach and The Point (the most western end of Oak Island) are the best places to hunt. Assuming you take our timing suggestion seriously [see below] and are indeed an “early bird”, you should find a shell pile at the shoreline. Don’t stop there! The best hidden treasures are typically hidden under grassy piles of seaweed and dark brown sea grass. Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet either. Just off the shoreline in 1 to 2 feet of water will provide another fine spot for hidden gems.

Best Southport Beaches for Shell Hunting

Very near Oak Island is another popular shell collecting zone: Bald Head Island. Accessed from Southport and adjacent from The Point, shell hunters can board the Bald Head Island passenger ferry to reach this small island destination located in between the Atlantic and Cape Fear River. On the island, you'll want to rent a bike or golf cart, as there are no cars available. The east coast of the island has the best collecting opportunities, but the southern-most point in that area is particularly blessed with shells. This point near the Shoals Club juts out into the Atlantic and connects the Frying Pan Shoals.  

Fun Fact: In 1965, North Carolina became the first state to name an official State Shell. The Scotch Bonnet is primarily found on the Outer Banks but has been found all along coastal NC beaches.

Best Time to go Shell Hunting in Oak Island

sunrise shell collecting

Morning tends to be the best time to find an abundance of shells in both volume and variety. The general rule of thumb is “the early bird gets the worm”. Head out at first light and move along the shore slowly. Miniature shells are plentiful but often overlooked. Additionally, the tide changes that occur during and after a full moon make it the perfect time to find those sought after shells. Head out just after a low tide and you’ll be surprised at everything the ocean turned up on the beach.

NC Shell Club Guidelines

As with any hobby, conchology comes with a few suggested guidelines. Following these simple guidelines offered by the NC Shell Club will do wonders to protect shell populations in the state of North Carolina for years to come.

  • Collect only what you need. Will collecting this shell enhance your collection or the collection of another shell enthusiast? Do not allow yourself to be caught up in the excitement of the moment and make poor choices about which shells you need to keep.
  • Protect the shell population. Collect conservatively. Do not collect living juveniles. Do not take everything you find. Collect specimens only from areas where many of its kind are living. Select one or two representative specimens. Note: This applies also to group collecting. Everyone in a large group collecting one or two living shells has the same effect as one person taking a bucketful!
  • Leave the habitat as undisturbed as possible. Return things to the way they were when you entered the habitat. For example, replace any rocks you turned over. Place the mollusks you decide not to keep back into the environment so they can recover and continue their life cycle.
  • If collecting for scientific purposes, take careful notes regarding the environment and the behavior of the mollusk. The specimen has little scientific value without this information.
  • Learn the local regulations. State and national parks, as well as marine preserves, generally have laws against taking live shells. Some states require a fishing license to collect live shells from public waters. Collecting commercially important species may have additional regulations governing when and where they can be collected and who can do the collecting. There are even regulations regarding the collection of dead shells. Be sure you know the requirements where you are collecting. And, be aware there may even be international regulations that could affect your collecting practices.
  • Respect private property fronting the waters. The waters are public but the land often is not.
  • Appreciate any gifts of nature that come your way. A living shell tossed ashore by waves is dying. There is little chance to return the animal to a habitat where it will recover. Hurling these shells into the ocean is not an effective method of returning them where they can recover! This process is the natural death process and provides the occasional opportunity for a lucky shell collector to add an especially nice shell to his or her collection.
  • Recognize there are many reasons to collect. Aesthetics are what drive the interest in shells for many collectors. Choosing a shell because it would look great on your bookshelf or mantle can be a compelling reason for collecting it.
Book Your Oak Island, Caswell or Southport Vacation Rental Today

The next time you return home from your Oak Island NC vacation, be sure to tell your friends how you and the kiddos became conchologists during your family vacation while showing off all your beautiful finds. For suggestions on vacation homes located in the best shelling areas, be sure to check out our Caswell Beach and Southport area rentals or simply call the office at (800) 486-5441 and allow our staff to guide your search.

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