Shelling on the Crystal Coast

The beach at sunrise takes on a different personality, with quiet peaceful sounds, beachcombers searching for the perfect shells, the warming sun shining on small traces of sea glass and shells rolling in the surf just waiting to be found. If you time the tide right – you can find beautiful shells and sea treasures. Spending the morning walking through the cool wet sand and listening to the faint bird chirps through the roar of the ocean to some seems like a fantasy. For the lucky vacationers to the Crystal Coast or our permanent residents that call our beaches home – this is part of their morning routine. The towns along Bogue Banks, knows for their shells, all offer pristine beaches and lush coastline for those early birds looking to hit the beach before the island wakens. Beach-goers that will be joining you in the early morning hours are usually those hunting for shells!

What are the best spots to hunt for shells? Collectors say that Hammocks Beach State Park and Cape Lookout National Seashore are two of the top shelling beaches in our area! If hitting the beach at low tide is not your style, you can visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, NC where they have over 1,000 seashells on display.

Scotch Bonnet
This is an important find – it’s our state shell! Look for the trademark pattern and a curled outer edge.

Mole Crabs (or Sand Fleas)
Dig into the sand just at the water line and you’re sure to find some of these guys. You can scoop up a handful of sand with one in it and watch them move quickly to hide. They move and burrow backwards into the sand! They make great bait for pompano and sheepshead.

Coquina Clams
These tiny shells can sometimes be found still paired! Try stirring up the sand in a tidepool and watching quietly. Many times you’ll find a live one and see it burrow itself back down into the sand. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, and can be very tiny. They are also known as “Angel’s Wings.”

Sand Dollars
Venturing out to barrier islands and the Cape Lookout Seashore will reward more sand dollar finds! You may find some still “alive” with a velvety brownish-green exterior. Put those ones back, only collect ones that are sun-bleached white.

Scallops
These fan-shaped beauties come in a variety of patterns in bright oranges, pinks and browns. You can sometimes find a pair, but it’s more rare!

Whelk Shells and Egg Cases
You’ll find three varieties here: the Lightening Whelk, the Knobbed Whelk and the Channel Whelk. Their egg cases are long, spriral chains of pods, and are a neat find!

Sea Glass
These rare pieces of glass are naturally weathered by the churning ocean and sand, giving the glass a “frosted” look with smooth edges. Blue and purple pieces are some of the rarest finds!

Olives
These shells are easy to find since they dwell in the shallow waters. They are easily recognizable since they have a polished look, they also come in various patterns and sizes.

Seashell Finds from the Crystal Coast