ANCLOTE KEY, Fla. (FOX 13) - As the leader of a Bay Area movement called shelling, Captain Rick Sutton finds solace on the sea.
"There's deer season, there's duck season, and there is a shell season," Sutton explained.
Through social media sites like Facebook, shelling has become one of the fastest-growing hobbies. One Florida group called The Shellinators boasts almost 20,000 members and is growing.
"It's definitely addictive,” Sutton joked. “The symptoms are blurry eyes, hunched back, tide shoulders; cold wet, hungry.”
On this day, Sutton navigated high winds and blue bay waves to take us to a tiny island normally submerged, but the water had receded to reveal its treasures. As we walked the beach, he took in the view.
"Doesn't this just take your breath away?” he offered. “I mean, isn't this worth preserving and protecting?”
But as we headed out to hunt, something caught Sutton’s eye. And it wasn’t a shell.
"Well, we're going to grab this trash real quick. Plastic is our enemy,” he said. “We try to protect this ecosystem because most of the shellers I know are pretty strong environmentalists also."
We picked our way across the beach as Sutton described the various exposed seashells. Soon we meet up with his mentor, Thomas Robert Campbell. Known as the “Shell Train,” if there was a Babe Ruth of shell hunting, he'd be it.
"Sometimes a shell becomes common. At first, you pick 'em up and you're like, 'Eh.' But then it becomes a sense of adventure," Campbell said.
And for anyone thinking about shelling, the Shell Train says beware. "You start following things like the Weather Channel instead of following football games on TV and before you know it, you're addicted."
That's what happened to Sutton, who now devotes his life to the love of shelling.
"I like to teach people about this. And teach them to appreciate it and to love nature," he added.