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Shell museum breaks ground on aquarium

By Staff | Jan 18, 2019

TIFFANY REPECKI A ground-breaking ceremony was held today at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel for the new aquarium addition.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel held a ground-breaking ceremony today to celebrate the start of its estimated $6 million renovation project, which will include aquariums.

Museum officials and local dignitaries joined volunteers, donors and supporters to mark the start of what it anticipated to be a year-long process, with the ground-level aquarium on track to open in early 2020. Construction is expected to take six months, then six more months for design and installation.

“Our mission is to connect people to the natural world,” Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman told the crowd gathered at the museum’s steps. “People love shells, but don’t know where they come from.”

She noted that 90 percent of museum visitors do not know shells come from living creatures.

The project will focus on three areas: renovating the facade of the building and the front entrance; introducing several new aquariums – a living collection; and increasing exhibit and program space.

TIFFANY REPECKI Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman speaks during a ground-breaking ceremony today for the new aquarium addition.

In addition, the entry’s wooden staircase will be replaced with a two-story glass atrium.

Joining the shell collection, the new living collection will be located on the ground floor and will consist of 10 to 15 aquariums, ranging from 100 to 1,000 gallons, plus a state-of-the-art touch tank. It will be the first aquarium in the world dedicated solely to mollusks of all species and geographies.

Featuring local and non-local species, including squids, octopuses, cuttlefish and giant clams, the collection will help visitors connect the shells to the animals that create them, Hipschman explained.

“Because that’s where conservation starts,” she said.

There are more mollusks in the ocean than all the fish and marine mammals combined.

PHOTO PROVIDED Renderings of the project planned for the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel.

“We started the aquarium project to educate others to the importance of mollusks,” Hipschman said. “Many are endangered and most people don’t know they exist. Yet they are a critical component of the world’s food web – including our own.”

With the welcome desk and retail store moving to the ground floor for the new entrance, the second floor will open up. For the project’s final focus, the museum will increase its exhibit space to emphasize current environmental issues and will use the area for flexible programming, even traveling exhibits.

“This aquarium is going to transform this museum,” she said. “This aquarium is going to transform Sanibel.”

Richard Johnson, chair of the capital campaign committee for the project, also spoke.

“This is the next phase for Bailey-Matthews,” he said. “This is Bailey-Matthews shell museum 2.0.”

PHOTO PROVIDED Renderings of the project planned for the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel.

Also offering a few words, Mayor Kevin Ruane echoed that.

“This is a great opportunity,” he said, adding that he could not think of a better partner for the city in working on a project to increase conservation. “It’s what we are here for as a sanctuary island.”

In 1994, Sanibel led the world by passing the first-ever live shelling ban in the city.

The museum has been working to protect and preserve mollusks ever since.

During construction, the museum will be closed for a couple of weeks, officials reported. However, they anticipate that the facility will be operational throughout most of the construction phase.

PHOTO PROVIDED Renderings of the project planned for the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel.

For the project’s progress and schedule updates, visit www.shellmuseum.org/alive.

Along with private donations, it is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, Florida Council of Arts and Culture, and state of Florida. The museum is raising the remaining funds needed to complete the project. Once operational, the additions will pay for themselves and can be used to underwrite children’s educational programs.

For more information, call 239-395-2233 or visit the website.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is at 3075 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel.