Sanibel Island is heralded as one of the world's top shelling destinations, on par with Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

March is peak season on Sanibel, with activities such as the annual Sanibel Shell Fair and Show. But the shell selection is plentiful year-round. Planning your trip another part of the year will result in better prices and fewer people.

Hannah Milman, crafts executive editorial director for Martha Stewart Living and a regular Sanibel visitor since 1993, suggests packing a bucket, a stash of small resealable plastic bags, a hat, sunscreen, and a flashlight. Remember your rain gear, and should it storm during your vacation, consider it a blessing, not a curse: You can expect a greater bounty of shells after a storm.

The best shelling is done at low tide, preferably after a full moon. Check tidal charts, which are posted on signs at many beaches and hotels, as well as at the
Sanibel and Captiva Chamber of Commerce.
Respect for and preservation of the environment is paramount on Sanibel and Captiva. It is illegal to take "live" shells from these and the surrounding islands. If you discover life in your treasures, return them to the sea.

Many hotels and vacation rentals offer outdoor tables for you to sort your day's find. Be sure to clean your shells and sand dollars before you pack them, rinsing in water until it runs clear. Pack your shells carefully.

After you've collected and sorted your shells, you can turn them into wondrous creations.  Classes in shell crafting are offered each Monday at the Sanibel Community Center.

Sanibel Shell Fair and Show, held every March in the historic community house, welcomes artisans, naturalists, and collectors. Visit the Sanibel and Captiva Chamber of Commerce for a calendar of events.

Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum houses a vast collection of rare shells as well as exhibits relating to the history of shell art. The museum also offers lessons in preservation.

After all of your searching, if you still find your collection incomplete, supplement it with shells in uncommon shapes and colors from any of the island's many shops, including
Sanibel Seashell Industries, 239-472-1603; Showcase Shells, 239-472-1971 or; and She Sells Sea Shells, 239-472-6991 or