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sustainable seafood

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5 of our favorite shells (and 5 things you may not know about them)

If you're an avid beachcomber of Sanibel Island, you probably already know (and have found) these 5 shells. However, we have added some fun facts about the creatures that inhabit these shells that might just make them more fascinating!

1.     Lightning Whelk. This predatory snail is unique among the gastropods because its shell spirals to the left, while about 90% of gastropods spiral to the right. They also lay those long, snake-like egg cases that we see washed up in the wrack line, that may contain up to 3,000 embryos each!

Lightning whelk egg case washed ashore. 

Lightning whelk egg case washed ashore. 

2.     Alphabet Cone. Cone snails are notorious for their specialized hunting style – they use a modified tooth as a venomous harpoon to sting and paralyze their prey. If you find a live one, be sure to handle with care as you return it to the sea. Check out the video below to watch a relative of the alphabet cone hunt for prey - if you're short on time, fast forward to the 1:40 mark). 


3.     West Indian Worm Shell. Despite their worm-like appearance, these curvy creatures are actually gastropod snails that attach themselves to sponges or rocks. The irregular spiraling of the shell can reach up to 3 inches long.

4.     Lettered Olive. These shiny shells can often be seen at low tide slowly cruising along the sandbar. Even though they look peaceful, olives move across the sand in search of tiny bivalves that they grab with their muscular foot, then drag below the sand to consume.

5.     Coquina. Also known as butterfly clams, these colorful mini-mollusks love to catch a wave and surf to their feeding grounds. You can find these guys burrowing just below the surf near the water line – see how many colors you can find!

From left to right: Lightning Whelk, Alphabet Cone, West Indian Worm Shell, Lettered Olive, and Coquina

From left to right: Lightning Whelk, Alphabet Cone, West Indian Worm Shell, Lettered Olive, and Coquina


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5 Sustainable Seafood Choices in Florida

It's an important part of SW Florida culture to eat and enjoy fresh seafood from our local waters, but it's also our responsibility as good stewards of the ocean to make wise choices and avoid eating species that have been overfished. At Sanibel Sea School, when it comes to seafood, the general rules we follow are "eat less, eat local, and eat low on the food chain". Here's a quick list of suggestions if you're in the area and looking for a sustainable meal:

1.     Cobia (US Farmed). These fish grow quickly and efficiently, and require less protein in their feed than other farmed species. They are rarely fished commercially, so wild populations remain healthy. Cobia filets are mild and buttery, with a meaty texture - often available at Publix thanks to their new partnership with Open Blue, a Miami-based farming operation. (http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/03/13/open-blue-cobia-penetrates-publix-super-markets/)

2.     Florida Oysters. Apalachicola Bay, located in the panhandle, provides 90% of Florida’s oysters that are sustainably grown and hand harvested. The rich Apalachicola estuary is one of the last areas where wild oysters are harvested from small boats. Oysters and other shellfish are usually a great choice, since they are filter feeders that clean the water as they eat. 

3.     Mahi Mahi (Troll or poll caught). This popular game fish is fast-growing and spawns early in life making it a great alternative to grouper and Chilean sea bass, which are vulnerable to overfishing. Additionally, Mahi Mahi caught using troll or pole fishing methods reduces the chance of by-catch, which keeps our sea turtles and sea birds safe.

4.     Tilapia (US Farmed). Tilapia is a fast-growing, easily cultured omnivorous species and is extremely versatile in the culinary world. Sarasota Organic Tilapia Farms and RoyalTila based in Punta Gorda are both committed to producing sustainable, eco-friendly, organically fed fish. These facilities are among many in Southwest Florida that are supplying local tilapia to restaurants and grocery stores.

5. Your Catch. Perhaps the most sustainable way to consume seafood is by catching it yourself – we think it’s the most fun too! Be sure to check your local fishing regulations for size limitations and seasons. Here’s a link to recreational fishing regulations from FWC: http://www.myfwc.com/media/2714988/Coastal-species-quick-chart.pdf  

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