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Shell Museum works to inspire desire to learn and understand mollusks

By Staff | Jan 21, 2010

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is the only Museum in North America entirely dedicated to shells. Museum volunteers work with the Museum Director/Curator, José H. Leal, to verify identification of shells and create a detailed record of additions to the Museum's shell or library collection. Candy Heise and Cindy Timm work with the library collection. Hal Pilcher, Tom Risher,and Ted McLean assist with the Museum's world-wide shell collection. Kathleen E. Hoover serves as the Museum's Public Relations Manager. The Museum is featuring a variety of programs and workshops to further people’s knowledge and understanding of mollusks.

There’s more to mollusks than just their pretty shells.

Some are predators, some are pacifists, others are freeloaders and move into other fellow mollusks homes and then of course many serve as food.

In an effort to meet the community’s and visitors growing desire to learn more about mollusks and their shells, the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is sponsoring an array of programs, lectures and field trips this season.

There will be presentations from top malacologists including Dr. Jeff Nekola, a snail expert from New Mexico and a shelling adventure trip to help shelling enthusiasts identify different mollusks.

“There’s always something new to learn,” said Dr. Jose Leal, the director/curator of the Shell Museum.

The Shell Museum is focused on igniting intellectual curiosity and the desire to know.

The Shell Museum staff have always featured programs and classes to clean and maintain shell collections as well as create art with them. They also have a variety of programs for children and youth.

But more people who come to the museum are beginning to ask questions other than how to preserve a shell find.

“People always want to know more about their findings,” Leal said. “We’re putting a little more emphasis on knowledge.”

Shelling for some has seemingly inspired a need to know more about what lies beneath the shell.

“People want to learn,” Leal said. “It becomes almost addictive.”

Jeff Oths, vice president of the Shell Club, knows a little something about the lure of shells. The shelling enthusiast combs Lighthouse Beach daily for shells. His dedication paid off on Christmas Day when he found a star snail – the 300th Sanibel shell to be put on the Museum’s online shell guide.

Oths said the fact that the Shell Museum offers a variety of programs and lectures makes shelling more enjoyable.

“Education is important,” Oths said.

The Shell Museum is more than happy to respond to folks like Oths desire to learn.

On Saturday, Jan. 30, The Shell Museum is hosting the Florida United Malacologists for a meeting. This one-day gathering is designed to enhance communication among professional, amateur, and student malacologists, with topics including but not limited to biology, ecology, paleontology, archaeology, and conservation, according to a press report.

And for a week Dr. Jeff Nekola, a snail expert and professor at the University of New Mexico, will be at the Shell Museum sharing his knowledge and collection of snails from Florida.

He will present his extensive collection to the Museum so that visitors can learn about the local species – which many are found no where else but south Florida.

“It’s really important to have a local resource,” Nekola said from his University of New Mexico office.

Nekola hopes through education to instill a desire for people to protect the diversity of land snails. Many land snails are as small as President Abraham Lincoln’s nose on the penny, Nekola said.

For those who want to learn more about shelling, Leal will be giving a personal shelling tour on Monday, Feb. 1 on the Adventures in Paradise Shelling Adventure.

Aside from the programs and lectures, The Shell Museum also features a well-stocked scientific library.

The goal of the Shell Museum is to nurture continuing education among shell enthusiasts. Along with the programs and lectures there will be a new exhibit being created this year at the Museum.

At the Visitor’s Center, MMM…Mollusks! will engage the visitor with images and objects from all over the world, depicting local, global, and historical uses of mollusks as food, according to a press report. Authentic objects, including packaged foods such as dried squid and canned clams, and touchable food replicas, such as raw oysters and tako-yaki, will give the visitor a sense of the variety of ways people prepare and enjoy edible mollusks.

“What we like to do is get more people engaged,” said Kathleen Hoover, the Public Relations and Marketing Director for the Shell Museum.

The staff also hope to help people understand the importance of mollusks in relation to other fauna, flora and humans.

“We’re all interconnected,” Leal said.

To learn more about the museum go to www.shellmuseum.org.