Words by Sarah Deloach
At the southernmost point of Alabama lies Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, a coastal paradise offering over 32 miles of sugar-white sand lining the whole shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico. This immense body of water is abundant with diverse marine life, including different types of shells and mollusks. Due to the wide variety of species, shelling is an extremely popular activity for visitors and locals alike.
You may be asking yourself, “what exactly is a shell?” The simple definition of a shell is a hard, protective outer case of a mollusk or crustacean. Along the Gulf, you will find shells that were once homes to clams, scallops, mussels, oysters, and many other creatures. These animals carry around shells as protection because they have no backbone, unlike other marine creatures.
Miles and miles of beaches can be overwhelming for visitors looking to shell because they may not even know where to start. All of the beaches around the area will offer a bounty of shells to be found, but there are a few public beaches to get you started.
Alabama Point, located at Perdido Pass Bridge, has more than 6,000 feet of coastline and is the perfect shelling spot to start. If you are looking to do more than just shelling, this public beach also has sand dunes, picnic areas, restrooms, and outdoor showers. Connecting Little Lagoon to the Gulf of Mexico is Little Lagoon Pass. This beach has an extremely shallow waterway and attracts mollusks and crustaceans– fishermen always have a field day here. This beach requires paid parking and offers many amenities. The Gulf State Park Pavilion is up next, and it’s an uncrowded, peaceful beach sitting among the sand dunes and sea oats. There is unlimited room to spread out and search closely for gorgeous shells lying around. Surf fishing is a popular activity here too, which makes for fun people-watching and ample marine life close by. This beach access has the newest amenities with air conditioning, a snack bar, private showers, and a huge fireplace for chilly days. Lastly, there is Fort Morgan Beach. This beach lies where the Gulf meets Mobile Bay and is extremely secluded, so rare shells may be more concentrated.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach know they have some gorgeous shells to be found, so on your drive into town, make sure to stop by the welcome center to pick up a shelling brochure and a bag. Although there are no bad times to go shelling, tit’s ideal to go before sunrise because daily tide changes cause new shells to wash up on shore.
It is important to be a responsible sheller and only take shells that are no longer inhabited by sea creatures– avoiding shells on the surf is also a good way to help maintain the ecosystem and protect the animals that call Gulf Shores and Orange Beach home.