I suppose this should start with a disclaimer… I’m no expert on the subject, but being surrounded by water I do have a deep-rooted passion for combing the beaches of Eastern NC in search of those elusively perfect shells, shark’s teeth, and pieces of beach glass for my growing collection. Therefore I deem myself qualified to share the info below… with a little help from google and a few shelling pros.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
Well… that’s not always true. Successful shelling is part luck and part timing. You have to know where, and when, to look. Some days you hit the jackpot and other days you get skunked, but that’s why they call it seeking, not finding.
The joy is in the seeking, finding is a bonus.
Serious shellers know that the shallow shoals of the Crystal Coast and the barrier islands of the Southern Outer Banks are a beachcomber’s delight. Most of these beaches are accessible only by boat… less roads = less competition! And the clear island-esque water means that you can spy shells from afar. Wading along the shoreline of the Cape Lookout beaches is addicting. We always leave with full buckets and sore necks!
Check out this story about trips to Cape Lookout, aka Carolina Caribbean.
Now if you’re die hard, you might have to just suck it up on the wintriest of days to find the treasures you crave. Winter winds and waves uncover summer’s hidden gems.
Any sheller worth their salt will tell you that post-storm is the best time to hunt. The storm swell literally unearths treasures that have been stuck in the sand for years… decades… centuries… millenniums… even millions of years. Kind of surreal to think that our coast was an underwater ocean millions of years ago. I hadn’t exactly put two and two together until Blair said, “well how else do you think the Megalodon teeth got here?” I know he likes bringing these simple concepts to light, I just think my brain is at capacity with the here and now, not so much large scale. (don’t even get me started on outer space)
Neuse River Treasures
From neighbor and fellow beachcomber, Sue Bowe: The Lower Neuse River is a trove of seashells, fossils, and who-knows-what. Starting at the Arlington Place beach and pier and walking along the shore toward Minnesott Beach you are likely to uncover some of these treasures. I have been surprised at the variety of shells I have found. In addition to large quahogs and cockles, I have spotted whelks, lettered olives, kitten paws, moon snails, slipper shells, jingles, baby’s ears, clam, scallop and oyster shells, marginellas, and at least one jewel box. The shells along the shores of the Lower Neuse are likely very old; a chalky white shell may actually be a fossil. Speaking of fossils, some folks in AP are good at finding shark’s teeth on our beach including the highly sought after megalodon tooth
The Neuse River is lined with pockets of roadless beaches ready to be explored.
Sue recommends the NC Shell Club on Facebook for some interesting posts and informative commentary. Another impressively knowledgeable group on Facebook is Carolina Seashellers. They are a great resource for where to look and what to look for, and if you post a picture everyone will chime in to ID your finds🐚.
I spy with my little eye
A prized possession in our house is our shark’s teeth collection.
We have passed down the love for combing to our kids and it’s become one of our family’s favorite hobbies. When they were little we used to scatter shark’s teeth in front of them so they could “find” them. But lately they’ve been (legit) finding more than we have! Keegan found a perfect megalodon tooth last week and was excited for days.
I also have Evie hooked on searching for beach glass, my personal obsession for years. We have river glass along the Neuse, most of which is not quite as tumbled as sea glass but just as pretty.
Teach them young… Then they can help you look!
Sand Dollars… Pennies of the sea
The most commonly found sand dollar on the NC Coast is a species of the keyhole urchin… the round, flat ones with the petal like design on the top. They can be found all the way from Virginia coastline down to Brazil.
Much folklore surrounds the sand dollar, my favorite being the mythical tale of them being the coins of mermaids. Finding a whole sand dollar can seem as far fetched as mermaid coins, but I can personally attest to success at the appropriately named, Sand Dollar Island. This is an island across from Shackleford Banks that is hidden at high tide and slowly appears as the tide drops.
Don’t keep the dark brown ones, they’re alive! Look closely and you’ll see tiny spines waving back at you, that’s what helps them bury themselves in the sand.
Friends from the Sea
Shells are more than keepsakes, they’re often homes for all kinds of creatures. When we go to the Crystal Coast, we always have a bucket in tow. We fill it up with sand and water, and the kids trot off to collect inhabited shells. It’s pretty neat to watch those lively little critters wiggle their way through the sand and blow bubbles, silly mollusks. This has literally kept my kids occupied for hours, it’s like a science project in a bucket… better than YouTube if you ask me!
Don’t get too attached, these guys aren’t heading home with you. Say goodbye and leave them behind in their happy place… they have probably been terrified all day!
So what’s missing from our collection? The coveted Scotch Bonnet, the official state shell of NC. We’ve only found pieces so the quest is still on for a whole one. Though you can become fixated on the rarer finds, the more common shells can be equally as beautiful.
Boat and beach weather are right around the corner… happy hunting!