Shell collectors are island lovers with a special purpose -- and posture. Instead of gazing up at waving palms or brilliant sunsets, they look down at the sandy edge of the sea, searching for colorful offerings. On Sanibel, a Florida island with some of the best beach shelling in the world, they are identified by their "Sanibel Stoop."
Conchologists (persons who study shells) often must snorkel or dive to find elusive specimens, or buy them from natives or fishermen who net them in deeper water. About 5,000 species are considered "collectibles," including cones, cowries, murex, large and showy volutes, olives and conch. The best collecting is not done on beaches, but offshore on reefs, and in quiet bays and lagoons. Or along the shore at low tide on still, moonlit nights.
Whatever the method used, mollusks can be discovered around many islands. Conditions may vary from year to year according to season, weather, pollution and disturbances in typography, but here are 10 of the world's top shelling locations:
*Philippine Islands -- Cebu, Bohol and the Davao area of Mindanao.
*Australia (and Tasmania) -- Parts of Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef and other island areas off the east coast.
*Indian Ocean -- Seychelles Islands and the Maldive Islands.
*West Africa -- Senegal to Angola.
*Sanibel/Captiva Islands (and Marco Island), Gulf of Mexico, Florida.
*Pearl Islands in the Gulf of Panama.
*Phuket Island, Thailand.
*Flores Island, Indonesia.
*Papua New Guinea -- south and north coasts.
*West Indies -- Margarita Island off Venezuela and the north coast of Jamaica.