Our goal for this article is to be a complete guide to finding and hunting for seashells at the many NC beaches from the Outer Banks, to the Crystal Coast near Carteret County, to Topsail Island, and finally shorelines near Wrightsville Beach and waterways in Brunswick County.
After reading this article, we hope you’ll have all the knowledge you need in your quest to know where to find them.
To participate, simply use the no registration discussion form at the bottom to ask questions, give insights on the best places to find them, and to tell us your favorite places on the coast to search for them. Be sure to subscribe to replies so you get notified when other readers ask questions about your content.
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Commonly found seashells at NC beaches: Scotch Bonnet, Keyhole Sand Dollar, Coquina Clam, Soft Shelled Clam, Banded Tulip, Atlantic Bay Scallop, Calico Scallop, Lightning Whelk, Lettered Olive, Saw Tooth Pen Shell, Auger Shell, Atlantic Oyster Drillers, Periwinkles, Atlantic Jackknife Clam, and Moon Snail.
Did you know that many of the seashells found along the Carolina coast are considered fossils? Most often, these fossils are from marine mammals that lived 240 million years ago and are common among snails, clams, and corals.
Where Did You Find Seashells?
Amongst all the things to do when visiting the Carolina coast, families and children love to hunt for seashells and this tradition continues today. With that in mind, we wanted to give you some tips on where to find them which may not immediately be apparent to those who do not live along the coast.
Not all seashells are found right along the waters edge, in fact there is a vast treasure trove of highly sought after shells found in other places along the coast. Additionally, we’ll touch briefly on the best TIME to find them as well.
When Is The Best Time?
The best time to find your treasure is immediately after a storm or hurricane, and in the late Fall, Winter, and early Spring when the coast is less crowded and there are less people searching. During storms, rough seas unearth buried treasure and push them towards the shoreline.
If you’re hunting along the immediate waterline is not yielding results, try searching the sand dunes adjacent to the beach as this is a place not many people expect to find shells and it’s very common for them to end up there after a storm surge and higher than normal tides. The sand dunes are also a great place to find sharks teeth.
Also, see dredging below.
NC Barrier Islands
There are many barrier islands off the NC coast that are very remote and untraveled. Less foot traffic and people searching means you have these islands all to yourself to find unspoiled (meaning unbroken and intact shells) treasure.
If you don’t have access to a boat to get to the barrier islands, then look in to pedestrian ferry boats which operate at many coastal towns and cities.
Areas After Dredge Work
Most communities along the NC coast consistently do dredge work to nourish their beaches. This process involves scooping up sand in the ocean and depositing them on the beaches to replace sand lost during storms.
As you can imagine, this uncovers many very rare and intact shells likely sitting out in the ocean for tens of thousands of years. If you’re visiting the coast, ask some locals where dredge work is being done and start hunting there.
Well Known Places
Here are some well known places we know about along the Crystal Coast beaches in Carteret County NC: Emerald Isle, Pine Knoll Shores, Indian Beach, Atlantic Beach, the sand dunes of Fort Macon State Park, The Rachel Carson Wildlife Reserve, Shackleford Banks, and the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Both Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout are only accessible by boat (or ferry) and are considered very remote and unspoiled natural areas.
Learn More About The Core Banks of Cape Lookout
Any place along the Outer Banks of NC is a great place as these communities are very remote. Some great spots include Nags Head, Cape Hatteras, and Ocracoke Island. Keep in mind that Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks is only accessible by pedestrian and car ferry. Additionally, the Outer Banks is a perennial favorite vacation and tourism destination for people from around the world.
All the towns in Pender County where Topsail Island is, and the Brunswick County NC beach towns are largely remote and somewhat untraveled.
Considering the Scotch Bonnet, Keyhole Sand Dollar, Coquina Clam, Soft Shelled Clam, Banded Tulip, Atlantic Bay Scallop, Calico Scallop, Lightning Whelk, Lettered Olive, Saw Tooth Pen Shell, Auger Shell, Atlantic Oyster Drillers, Periwinkles, Atlantic Jackknife Clam, and Moon Snail:
What NC beaches did you find these seashells and did you find any in the places we mentioned above? What time of year did you do your searching?
What other insights and information do you have? Tell us below.
Related: vacations, coastal areas, marine waterways, fossils, sand dunes, nourishment, kids and families.