Amanda Baker is a beachcomber from Cape Coral, in the south of Florida. She’s a self-described seashell fanatic, constantly searching for the beautiful treasures left behind on the beach by the mollusks that live in the waters nearby. Most of the shells she finds in Florida are native to the area and many are found only in Florida.
Amanda searches on both the east and west side of South Florida. On the west side, along the gulf of Mexico, the beaches are warm, sandy, calm, and shallow. On the east side along the Atlantic Ocean, the sand is coarser and the water is rough and cold.
“There are many beachcombers in South Florida, especially after a storm or hurricane,” says Amanda. “Everyone is searching for something different, but the most commonly sought-out shells are the Florida horse conch (the state shell), and the west-coast favorite, the junonia shell.”
Amanda moved with her three children, Dominic, Olivia, and Nicholas, to sunny Cape Coral from snowy Ohio in early 2014. She says that when they first arrived she’d take her kids to play at the beach, and didn’t know much about shelling at the time.
Everything changed when a 2016 storm washed up a crazy amount of shells on Sanibel Island. She heard about it from an Ohio friend commenting in a shelling Facebook group that she wished she were there. Amanda took her kids to check it out, as it was only 20 minutes away. She says they were absolutely hooked after finding beautiful shells, and went back almost a dozen times to collect them before they washed back into the ocean. Now, she and her kids go every weekend.
She and her kids have found many amazing shells over the last few years. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, they found “stinky” shells, remnants of live mollusks that had washed ashore and died buried in the sand. They also found huge conchs, tulips, and murexes on Sanibel Island after a tidal seiche caused a huge change in water levels.
She and the kids collected lots of pencil urchins after Hurricane Dorian near Jupiter Florida in 2019, and Amanda created a display for them at the Sanibel Shell Show, winning a Blue Ribbon. She and her son Dominic also created a “Hurricane Dorian” display that won both a Blue Ribbon and a Best Florida-Caribbean Shells plaque award at the 2020 Sanibel Shell Show. Her son Dominic has been the winner of the Best Young Scientist award at the show for all three years he’s entered.
Amanda says the entire entryway to her house, a full-sized cabinet, many many 5-gallon buckets, two side shelves, and countless baskets have all been filled by shells and beach treasures. She says she has a hard time parting with many of her treasures because all of them hold a memory from when she found them. “It’s amazing to me that they were all once alive. Nature makes the coolest things!” Her friends, once skeptical, now appreciate her family’s hobby. “They didn’t understand until we started winning blue ribbons in shell shows!”
Since getting hooked on beachcombing, Amanda and her kids have searched at Lake Erie, Florida Keys, and Panama City Beach. She and her kids are very excited to go anywhere in the Caribbean, and specifically the Bahamas, after they can safely travel again. What Amanda loves most about shelling is the thrill of the hunt, the beautiful scenery, the fresh air, and spending quality time making memories with her kids.
If you’re visiting Florida, Amanda recommends checking out Sanibel Island. “It’s got a lovely small town island feel, and you can find an amazing variety of shells on Lighthouse Beach, Bowman’s Beach, and Blind Pass,” Amanda says. She also likes Dania Beach in Broward County, Coral Cove in Jupiter, the middle Keys around Marathon, and the 10,000 Islands Natural Wildlife Preserve south of Marco Island. Family favorites include a visit to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel, Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, and watching a beautiful West Florida Sunset.
She and her three kids are members of the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club where they attend monthly meetings and share their recent finds. They love attending the annual Sanibel Shell Show, a massive draw for beach enthusiasts for the past 83 years. Amanda has even become a Shell Ambassador for the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. She wears a special shirt while at the beach to identify her as a resource to help shellers identify anything they find, so be sure to look for her with her kids on the beach if you get a chance to visit her shelling paradise.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2021 issue.
No live shelling: Be sure shells are empty and sand dollars, sea stars, and sea urchins are no longer alive before you bring them home.