When most people think of Florida’s sandy beaches, they think warm, sunny summer. But what the locals already know is that winter at the beach has tons to offer. 

The sand and water may be cold, but it’s a perfect time for looking for seashells. 

Maybe it’s because less people are on the beach, or maybe it’s the cold weather and winter storms washing them ashore, but the beach always seems full of seashells and other great finds during the winter months, according to a press release from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

While collecting is fun, leaving behind seashells and other marine organisms can benefit beaches. Shells provide protection for creatures such as hermit crabs and can be hiding places for small fish. They also help stabilize beaches and anchor seagrass. 

But if you do want to take home a few souvenirs, it’s important to know there are some rules when it comes to recreational seashell collection on Florida’s beaches. 

The major thing to keep in mind when you are collecting is, if it’s dead, it most likely is OK to keep. 

Do not keep anything that is federally protected (i.e. sea turtles, sawfish or parts thereof). 

If a seashell has a living organism inside it or is a living organism (think sand dollars and starfish), you must have a Florida saltwater fishing license (unless exempt) and you must adhere to state and local limits for that species. 

It’s also good to know that there are a few species prohibited from harvest, such as the Bahama starfish and live queen conch. You may collect queen conch shells when the shells do not contain any living queen conch at the time of collection. 

Special rules also apply if you are collecting in Lee or Manatee counties. 

To learn more about FWC’s regulations on recreational seashell collecting, visit MyFWC.com/Marine and click on “Recreational Regulations” and “Sea Shells.” For a fishing license, visit GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.