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Festival organizers, islands brace for annual shell-a-bration

By Staff | Jan 28, 2015

Joyce Matthys (left) and Club President Karen Turner. CRAIG GARRETT

Organizers of Sanibel’s largest public event are gearing up for the surge of shell enthusiasts in March.

The 78th annual Sanibel Shell Festival will attract shellers, crafters and those interested in the popular hobby. The event last year drew thousands, many from outside the state. It is regarded as the top shell event in the country. Proceeds from exhibitors, sponsors and fees benefit the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club.

Shelling is second only to stamps in the number of participants, according to Joyce Matthys, the club’s former president. The festival is a year-round effort in which to prepare, she said.

“We’re revved and ready to go,” she said.

Shell Festival preparations include:

Organizing sponsorship.

Off-island advertising.

The engraving on trophies and the creation of the awards, ribbons ordered.

The scientific division and artistic division chairpersons are receiving entry forms and planning their layouts for the show.

“The Bag Ladies” will soon start bagging the little bags of shells that are given to the people who pay to come into the Shell Show.

The big crunch starts the Sunday before the show. That is set-up day. Monday is used to put the finishing touches on the exhibit rooms. Tuesday the exhibitors bring in their exhibits. Wednesday the exhibits are judged. The major trophy winners are announced at a “Judges and Awards Reception” on Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. at the Shell Museum. The show opens on Thursday to the public and closes on Saturday at 4 p.m.


The Shell Festival is a cooperative fund raiser for the Sanibel Community Association and the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club. Until 2013 this event was called the Sanibel Shell Fair and Show. The outdoor activities were considered the Shell Fair and the Sanibel Shell Show was held inside the building.

The SCA raises funds by selling artistic creations that are made by volunteer Shell Crafters at the Sanibel Community House each Monday throughout the year. They have a special tent where they sell these articles. Sanibel beach shells are donated to the SCA and are sorted throughout the winter by the shell sorters. These shells and some shells that are purchased for sale are sold in “the shell tent” on the SCA grounds. The SCA also has a big raffle to raise additional funds. These funds go to maintain the Sanibel Community House.

The Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club makes its money by the $5 admission fees to the show. The club also sells shells inside the building, which generally are a higher quality shell than is sold outdoors. The club also has an “author’s table” where books are sold and guest authors handle signings.

This year the Shell Club and the SCA have worked together to create three event T-shirts for the show. This will be a 50/50 venture with the both entities sharing the costs and profits. The funds raised are given away in their entirety through a Grants Program.