Having not made it to all the worlds’ beaches or even those just in the US, I needed to consult with the most recent top picks by the expert “Dr. Beach”.
The greatest shell extravaganza I’ve personally hit was in the British Virgin Islands on the only coral island in the volcanic BVI chain, Anegada. This perfectly flat and rather arid island with sparse vegetation measures 11 miles by three, its highest point is just 28 feet above sea level. The island is surrounded by Horseshoe Reef, one of the world’s longest at 18 miles attracting divers and snorklers.
Flying in from Tortola over the turquoise water to the small Anegada runway was an experience in itself.
Although our visit was too short to enjoy any water sports, the reef offers a maze of tunnels, drops and caves boasting a rich marine life. Schools of mojarra and needlefish thrive in the sandy bottoms, while green sea turtles swim in the sheltered waters. Beyond the reef, spectacular sights await scuba divers. Angelfish, stingrays, triggerfish, parrotfish, blue tang, and horse-eye jacks inhabit the drowned holds of the numerous Spanish galleons, American privateers and British warships that have been wrecked here.
There are many beautiful powdery white-sand beaches where you can relax under the shade of a coconut palm or sea grape tree. Clear springs bubbling up from the coral bed, support Loblolly, sea grape, frangipani, and the turpentine tree along with feathery sea lavender and wild orchids.
Many exotic birds are attracted to the island including sandpipers, ospreys, terns, kaloo birds, blue herons, and frigate birds. In the ponds near Nutmeg Point, flocks of flamingoes gather. This was a wonderful sight; I could become a flamingo watcher.
The Arawaks called Anegada home nearly a thousand years ago. At the Anegada Museum, maps reveal the location of over 200 wrecks, while cannons, musket balls and ships’ timbers are part of the recovered booty.
For lunch we stopped at a small beach side restaurant, sitting outside at picnic tables, the chef/owner went to the water after counting the guests and pulled up lobster traps picking out one for each of us.
Relaxing in the sun with one of the island’s special rum concoctions and the freshest seafood ever was quite memorable.
We also stopped for a quick visit at the islands oldest hotel, the Anegada Reef with 20 air conditioned rooms and of course right on a beautiful beach. They offer many specials including rental car, fishing excursions and can assist you with all your diving and exploring.
In our drive around the island we spotted a beach that had mountains of conch shells! Well maybe not mountains but big piles and the happy troupe gathered them up like gold doubloons. It seems that when the conch meat is harvested the shells are just tossed aside and as we discovered a day or so later – not all has been pristinely cleaned and the shells start to give off quite a noticeable odor. Conch shells can be huge and extremely heavy with very sharp edges. One traveler in our group had taken six and needed to devote a large suitcase to his souvenirs. My two went onto the patio for days of “cleansing”.
Conch has been a popular food source throughout the Caribbean since the time of the Arawak Indians, before Christopher Columbus. The Arawaks also carved the spiral shells into various tools, musical horns (there are still conch-horn blowing contests throughout the Caribbean) and ceremonial objects.
It is illegal to take live conch in U.S. waters, where they are an endangered species, so most conch now comes from the various Caribbean islands, however, they are becoming scarce even in those waters. Conch farming is a developing industry in Key West and the Turks and Calicos Islands.
Conch meat has a mild, sweet clam-like flavor, but is extremely tough and must be pounded, or marinated in lime juice to tenderize it before cooking. I’ve tried it a few times but after seeing a demonstration of a Conch “snail” like meat in the “Dig” at Atlantis on Paradise Island, the idea of ever putting any in my mouth again is over for this lifetime.
All this shell discussion reminded me of one of our first family trips to Florida, the kids had gathered up a plastic bag of shells that I carefully packed in a separate box and then checked with our luggage. When the luggage came revolving around the carrousel at our home airport the shell box could be detected from a distance of about three city blocks. Avoiding the puzzled glances from other passengers gasping for breath, we snatched it up and ran for the out of doors.
Visit the BVI and you’ll enjoy each island for its individual character, I loved it there. www.bvitourism.com
The 5 Best United States Seashell Beaches
(according to Dr. Beach)
Calvert County, MD
Formed more than 15 million years ago, the nearby Calvert Cliffs span 30 miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay. Fossilized shells and sharks teeth are found here (by everyone but me!). The area directly below the cliffs has been closed off as they are considered too unstable to be near.
CumberlandIsland National Seashore
Cumberland Island, GA
A barrier island three miles from the mainland. You may need to apply six months in advance to secure reservations as only 600 beach visitors per day are admitted.
An estuary with 340 miles of coastline includes tidal and freshwater wetlands, maritime grasslands, coastal ponds, seashells and beaches.
A renowned beach community with an incredible variety of shells. Buy yourself one of those little beach rakes.
A haven for mottled and mallard ducks, raccoons, armadillos, marsh rabbits and absolutely amazing sheashells.