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How to Score the Best Seashells on Ocean Isle Beach

Hunting for sea treasures has to be one of the best activities along the North Carolina coast. As the tourist season comes to an end, the sea shells begin to wash ashore. When walking along Ocean Isle Beach during the fall, be sure to take along a basket or bucket to collect your shells. Learn how to score the best seashells, and even get a little education on native species. Let’s get to it, and go shelling.

Finding Washed Up Treasure

Discover the When and Where to Find the Best Shells

So you are ready to go on a shell hunting adventure? It would be nice if there was a crystal beach ball, so you could magically see theshells washing ashore. But with over 300 miles of barrier island beaches, there is more then enough space to find your share of seashells…and you are sure to find some.

Shells can be found year-round in eastern NC, but the best time for beach-combing is often duringhurricane season or after an early-spring storm. But you don’t have to wait for storms to roll through. Look at the tide chart, and plan to hit the beach one hour before and after low tide, for shelling prime time! The tide chart will also tell you the moon phase. The mostextreme tides are during a full moon and a new moon, giving maximum beach exposure.

If you are shelling during the middle of vacationseason, get out to the beach as early as possible. This will give you first pick from what has washed up overnight. And don’t be afraid to get your toes wet! Sometimes there are great treasures hiding in several inches of water.

If you come across a place on the beach that is covered in a layer of broken shell fragment, you may want to stop. Take time to squat down, or sit…and dig a little. These shells beds are the perfects places to find small shells…like Olives and Augers…and even sharks teeth.

Tips and Tricks

Tips That Will Make for an Excellent Beach Combing Experience

Stay Near the Beach

The first thing you can do improve your shelling experience is to rent a vacation property on the beach! With the shoreline is right outside your back door, that will greatly increase your beach time. Williamson Realty Vacations, serving Ocean Isle Beach and beyond, has many beautiful oceanfront properties to choose from.

Polarized Sunglasses

A pair of polarized sunglasses are a great piece of equipment for beach-combers. The lens of these glasses will allow you to see the into the water more clearly. This is perfect for finding seashells that are in the waters edge. Polarized sunglasses range in price from $5 to very expensive.

Bucket or Bag

You are going to need some kind of basket, bucket, or bag to collect your treasures. A mesh bag, store bought or a recycled onion bag, is great for collecting shells. The mesh will allow sand to fall through, without losing your shells. A quick dip in the water will also allow you to rinse off any mud or sand. A basic plastic sand pail is also good for gathering shells. But perhaps that most common receptacle is a plain old plastic shopping bag. If you are going to use a plastic bag, please be sure not to lose it. Plastic debris, in the ocean, is very bad for the health and well-being of sea animals.

Zip-Top Bag

A small sandwich sized zip-top bag is just the thing you need to hold your tiny treasures, such as sharks teeth and mini shells.

There is a tool you can purchase, that has a sifter on the end of a long handle. Very cool! You don’t even have to bend over to pick up your prizes. But any sifter will do. You can use a colander from the kitchen, or a toy sifter (the kind included in a children’s sandcastle kit).

Fanny-pack or Backpack

While you are beach combing, you are going to want to have your hands free. Bring a fanny-pack or backpack to hold your keys, cell phone, and other supplies. Some beachcombers will also loop their shell collecting bag through their belt, so that it is hanging from their waist!! How smart!

Other Supplies

There are a few other things that will help to make you seashell hunt a great experience. Be sure to wear sunscreen, and reapply…even when it isn’t hot. UV rays are always making their way to the beach! You may also want to bring along some water and a snack. Don’t forget to pack your camera, so you can get lots of fantastic pictures!!

Identify Your Shells

Know it All About the Jewels of the Sea in Eastern NC

Scotch Bonnet, the NC State Shell

This little shell can be a little elusive. But if you ever find one, consider her a true treasure.

Lightning Whelk and Channeled Whelk

These two spiraled beauties are often called conchs. But they are, in fact, whelks! To identify the Lightening Whelk from the Channel Whelk, remember this: Lightening’s open on the left, and Channeled Whelks open on the right.


Scallop shells come in all sizes and colors!

Olive Shells

These smooth cuties come in a variety of colors, and are normally found at about 1.5-2 inches long…but they can get bigger!

These are just a few of the jewels of the sea that you may find on your Ocean Isle Beach shelling adventure. If you are really interested in shelling, you may want to pick up a shell identification guide that is specific to Eastern NC. You can normally find one at a local beach shop, or you can order one online.

If you want to have an up close & personal shell encounter, you can attend Shell Hunting Along the Coast w/ Roy Revison October 1st!

Are you ready to head out on a shelling adventure of your own? What’s the most amazing thing you have ever found on the beach? We would love to hear about it.

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