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Two new exhibits unveiled at Bailey Matthews Shell Museum

By Staff | Sep 7, 2016

Dr. Jose Leal, the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum science director and curator, is more than excited to unveil the museum’s two new exhibits, which are now open to the public. BRIAN WIERIMA

To most people who turn into shellers when visiting Sanibel and Captiva islands, there isn’t much thought when picking up one of the gorgeous shells off the beaches and putting it into their shelling bag.

But every one of those shells which wash up onto the shores of Sanibel and Captiva have a story to tell, one in which is much more complex and telling by the time it is empty and becomes a piece of pretty jewelry or a decorative ornament on a shelf.

Telling that story is the exact expectation of the two new exhibits which have launched at the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum.

“One of our goals is to make some strong points to the questions we know the general public has about shells,” said National Shell Museum Science Director and Curator Dr. Jose Leal. “We want to answer such questions as ‘How is a shell made?’ and ‘Does a mollusk replace its shell?’ We want to try and explain the most simple facts in the best language possible of how these things happen.”

Thanks to a $300,000 grant by the Lee County and West Coast Inland Navigation District, the two new exhibits at the National Shell Museum will be providing exciting and factual information to the public, as well as refreshing its attractions.

Visitors can take a quick Sanibel and Captiva Shelling 101 course located in the downstairs portion of the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum. photos provided by Melanie Moraga and Dr. Jose Leal

The upstairs exhibit has nine information-filled panels and the title greeting visitors is “A Journey to the Center of a Shell.”

The interactive exhibits covers everything which goes into the formation of a shell and shares facts about the mollusks which create them.

“The result is just stunning,” Dr. Leal said. “There are photographs sent by scientists from all around the world and high-end videos sent by nature photographers. We have 17 video clips of live models in their habitat. All the content was well researched, which was my job throughout the process.”

The entire process took a couple of years, as the National Shell Museum worked with a design company to build the exhibits. National Shell Museum Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman was very instrumental in the projects and helped gain the revenue needed to construct the exhibits, as well.

Visitors also can gain firsthand knowledge of shelling right here on Sanibel and Captiva with the new exhibit located in the downstairs portion of the National Shell Museum.

The upstairs exhibit, located in the Great Hall of Shells, tells of the complex nature of a mollusk. photos provided by Melanie Moraga and Dr. Jose Leal

Here, there are educational panels and graphics telling visitors how to prepare to shell the islands, the tools used in shelling, the types of shells found on the local beaches, where to go and when to find the best shell prizes.

They can also bring in their finds, match their shells up with the guide provided and know exactly what they have found. Visitors can also have their picture taken along with their find.

“With our downstairs exhibit, people can maximize their efforts looking for shells here on the islands and make the best of their time shelling,” Dr. Leal said. “With our upstairs exhibit, we are able to show the complexity of what mollusks can do. All the shells used in the exhibits are from the museum’s collection, as well.”

With just one stop to the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum, shellers can become knowledgeable about how their treasures were created and where to find them. For residents of Sanibel and Captiva, they can enjoy the newest additions to an already popular and fun destination of the National Shell Museum.

To find out more about the museum and what it offers, visit its webpage at shellmuseum.org or call (239) 395-2233.

“The Shells of Sanibel and Captiva” is a simplified guide for visitors to match up their finds with the name of the shell. This portion of the exhibit is located in the downstairs of the National Shell Museum. photos provided by Melanie Moraga and Dr. Jose Leal