By Amy Bentley
Visualize a pretty sandy beach on an undeveloped, remote island, away from crowds of tourists, cars, noisy marinas and busy parking lots. This is my idea of a beachcomber’s paradise.
Keewaydin Island in Southwest Florida is as close to such a place as one can get. It’s an undeveloped barrier island with clean, sandy white beaches and turquoise blue water with lots of shells and sea life. The island is part of the 10,000 Islands chain located off the coast of near Naples and Marco Island. 85 percent of the island is open public space and a wildlife sanctuary where loggerhead turtles go to nest.
Eight miles long, Keewaydin is only accessible by boat and this helps keep the crowds down much of the year. And, unlike other popular places nearby such as Sanibel Island, Keewaydin has no roads, bridges, cars, public restrooms, lifeguards, or amenities. This doesn’t mean other beachcombers won’t be there too, but visitors are much more scattered about than a usual public beach in Florida.
My family visited this island twice this year to explore, swim, and beachcomb. We traveled to the island in January and again in March on the Hemingway Water Shuttle leaving from Rose Marina on Marco Island, which is the easiest way to get there if you don’t own a boat, kayak, or personal watercraft. The water shuttle departs several times daily all year round to drop people off at Keewaydin and bring them back, and you can book any times to go or return that you’d like. Several friendly dolphins accompanied us on part of the half-hour boat ride to the island and back, playing in the wake of our boat.
We arrived at low tide in the morning and headed out into the water on the Gulf of Mexico side to hunt for shells and other sea life. On our trips to Keewaydin Island, we have seen two species of starfish and live shells including a murex, a Florida fighting conch, and a beautiful live lightning whelk. The lower the tide, the further you can go out in the water to hunt for shells or other treasures.
If you’ve never seen a live Florida Fighting conch, you’re in for a treat. This bizarre sea snail mollusk has weird googly eyes that stick out, along with an arm-like appendage that will reach out and try to fight you (hence its name). And this animal has weird googly eyes that stick out. These shells are found on many Southwest Florida beaches, but in all of my many beachcombing trips around Southwest Florida since my family moved here in 2019, I’ve only seen a live one on Keewaydin Island. I found dozens of the pretty Florida Fighting conch shells (empty) in various colors and shades, some dark brown, some tan-colored, and many with beautiful zigzag patterns. This shell is one of my favorites! Many I collected from Keewaydin were a dark, rich chocolate brown color and all still had all their points on the crown of the shell. They were much less worn down that the same shells from other Southwest Florida beaches.
Other perfect empty shells we found were a red banded tulip, several bright pink scallops with beautiful patterns, an orange scallop, a whelk, and a spiky lace murex. Since I already have some of these shells from other area beaches, I was only collecting shells that were not damaged or broken to add to my personal collection.
Perhaps the thing my son and I enjoyed the most is the clear turquoise water and the overall tranquility on Keewaydin. It’s nearly impossible to have a beach to yourself during daylight hours on any public beach in Florida, especially in March. When we went in January, very few people were on the island, but the weather wasn’t great. It was drizzling and chilly and the water was cold, so winter is not the best time to go.
Southwest Florida is a tourist mecca, especially January through April when the temperature is moderate and there’s low humidity. This is the height of tourist season, with spring breakers and snowbirds visiting the beaches. Even midday on Keewaydin in March, there were only scattered small groups of visitors on the island, all keeping to themselves and allowing us to enjoy a peaceful beach day without noise or rowdy crowds. It was a little warmer than usual, in the low 80s. Being surrounded by clean sand, lots of shells, warm sunshine and stunning turquoise water made for a lovely day away from home.
Learn more about seashells
Learn more about identifying shells, the history of seashell collecting, great shelling beaches, and the lives of the animals who make the shells we find on the beach. Articles ›
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.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2022 issue.