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Shell museum has something for everyone during summer

By Staff | Jul 11, 2018

PHOTO PROVIDED The Collections Tour at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel takes place on Tuesday as part of the New Day, New Adventure series.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum has plenty for families and individuals to see and do during the off-season, and with a summer special the offerings are even more affordable.

Open seven days a week, the museum features a different program daily for its New Day, New Adventure series. There are Live Tank Talks four times a day and Shell Arts and Crafts during most of the week in the afternoons. The museum also offers guided Beach Walks for some outdoor fun.

“This is not a slow time for the museum,” Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman said, adding that traveling Florida families are typically stopping in. “The museum is as busy in July as it is in March.”

The museum tries to build its summer programming with that demographic in mind.

“We try to offer family-friendly fun and interesting programs,” she said.

PHOTO PROVIDED The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel holds daily Beach Walks.

All of the activities focus on the mollusks who create shells.

“Some are more of a program where you’re listening to an expert,” Hipschman said, adding that there are also hands-on interactive opportunities. “Some of them are incredibly fun for kids, like fossils.”

The programming also appeals to all ages and genders.

“Like Shell Jewelry, we’re finding that we have everybody making jewelry,” she said, citing the arts and crafts as another that is universally popular. “It’s whatever appeals to you and your family.”

And finding one’s interest is even easier on the wallet with the summertime discount.

PHOTO PROVIDED The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel features a number of programs and activities during the off-season for families and individuals.

The museum is offering a buy one, get one half off on every admission and beach walk. Hipschman explained that the special is perfect for value-conscious families who are traveling with children.

“It’s a great way to combine learning in the museum with learning on the beach,” she said.


Outreach Coordinator Leigh Gay explained that the daily series runs from 1 to 2 p.m.

Monday features “Collection Connection,” which is normally run by a museum volunteer. She explained that the volunteer may bring shells from home to share with the group or talk about the shell collection department that is utilized by the museum, scholars and citizen scientists in research.

“It kind of shows the importance of the scientific collection and cool shells from all around the world,” Gay said.

Tuesday is “Fossil Dig,” which consists of a lecture on fossils. The material goes over what fossils are, how they are made and how long it takes to create one. Participants get to pick out and keep a fossil.

“We talk about the different species of fossil shells found in Florida,” she said.

Hundreds have already taken part in Wednesday’s program – “Shell Jewelry.”

“Shell Jewelry is probably our most popular program,” Gay said.

The museum provides necklaces, shells and other pieces of jewelry, like pearls.

“You make your own shell jewelry,” she said.

“Collections Tour” is held on Thursday and, unlike the other programs, is not included with one’s museum admission. At a cost of $10, it is open to a maximum of 10 people and requires registration.

“The Collections Tour is when we bring people to the upstairs portion of the museum,” Gay said.

Where the collection department is located, the upstairs is not typically open to the public. She explained that the guided tour goes through the department and focuses on the collection.

“And what kind of data we need to keep it going,” Gay said.

Friday features “Story Time and Craft,” which entails reading a book then making a craft.

“You can make a shell magnet to put on the fridge,” she said.

Mollusk University takes place on Saturday. While included in one’s museum admission, there is a limit of 15 people allowed to take part in the program, so advance registration is again required.

“It’s split up into four stations,” Gay said.

In the exhibit hall, participants learn about the different habitats of mollusks, while there is an opportunity to make shell magnets in the art room. Another area examines a mix of shells.

“You get to hold really really big shells and learn about their growth and reproduction,” she said.

In the touch tank room, participants get to touch live mollusks.

Gay noted that everyone receives a university graduation certificate at the end.

“I would say that it is the most family-friendly one,” she said, pointing out that there is something for all ages – adults to young children – included in the program. “Everyone will be interested.”

Sunday is “Super Scavenger Hunt.”

“It takes you all throughout the museum to complete it,” Gay said.

Those who complete the scavenger hunt win a prize.

“In the past, we’ve done really cool shells that people collected from the beach and donated to us, and just little things here and there,” she said.

To register in advance, stop by the front desk or call 239-395-2233.


The Live Tank Talks take place at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m.

“They run throughout the day,” Gay said, adding that they last for approximately 30 minutes.

“The Tank Talk focuses on how to tell if a mollusk is dead or alive,” she said. “We also talk about the live shelling ban here in Florida and shelling ethics.”

An open-ended presentation, participants are welcome to ask questions.

“We can talk about growth, reproduction, feeding styles,” she said.


The museum offers Shell Arts and Crafts every day, except on Wednesday, from noon to 3 p.m. The public is provided with hot glue guns, shells, googly eyes and more to have fun and get creative.

“You can come in and make a little shell critter,” Gay said.


Led by the museum’s shell experts, the one-hour walks depart daily at 9 a.m. from the Island Inn, at 3111 West Gulf Drive, Sanibel. Registration is required in advance and six openings are available.

“We do a short little talk,” she said. “Then we go out onto the beach and look for shells.”

Participants are invited to collect and keep what they find.

Gay noted that the guide will discuss the more commonly found local shells.

The cost for the beach walk is $15 for adults, $9 for ages 12-17 and $7 for ages 5-11. Children ages 5 and under are free, but they still require advance registration like the paying participants.

To register, stop by the front desk, call 239-395-2233 or visit www.ShellMuseum.org.

“A lot of people that visit our beaches don’t have a lot of background on what shells are,” Gay said. “The beach walk and museum experience are really valuable, I think. It gives you a different perspective of how to look at the beach.”

“It’s just more background knowledge about the beach itself to make you a better sheller and, of course, the cool biology about mollusks as well,” she added.

Hipschman echoed that sentiment.

“We know that people will leave the museum with an understanding of these amazing creatures and the environment that they live in,” she said.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission is $15 for adults, $9 for ages 12-17 and $7 for ages 5-11; ages 5 and under are free.

For more information, visit online at www.ShellMuseum.org.

The museum is at 3075 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel.