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Shell museum opens doors after months of construction

By Staff | Jan 3, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel reopened its doors on Dec. 21.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel has reopened for business.

On Dec. 21, the facility reopened its doors to visitors after shutting down about eight months to undergo an estimated $6 million renovation project. While most of the museum is back up and running, including its exhibits and programs, the new aquariums will not be unveiled until later in March.

“It’s been wonderful for us. It’s great to have visitors coming in again,” Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman said on Dec. 24. “The reaction from our visitors has been ecstatic.”

The museum is still putting the finishing touches on its general construction, but it is open for all visitors and is offering more programming, exhibits and activities than it ever has before.

“Everything that they have seen before is still here and available,” she said.

PHOTO PROVIDED Artwork covers the new walls along the outside of the museum.

One of the new exhibits is called “Coral Reefs: Nurseries of the Sea.”

“That is a traveling exhibit from the Paly Foundation,” Hipschman said, explaining that the museum has supplemented the display with shells and corals from its own in-house collections.

The pop-up programs are back, along with activities like beach walks, live tank talks, shell arts and crafts, and shell jewelry. Some require registration, while others are included with admission.

“We do them throughout the day,” she said.

Its new Living Gallery, which will house the first-ever aquariums, will open in early March.

PHOTO PROVIDED The museum received the first animals for its new Living Gallery. They are being held in quarantine tanks to ensure that they stay healthy as work is completed on the new aquariums, set to open in March.

“Still in the works is the new gallery, which is an addition to the museum,” Hipschman said. “The Living Gallery is about 10,000 gallons of aquarium exhibits featuring mollusks, which are the animals that create the shells.”

“Our aquariums will encourage people to look at some of the smaller animals, which people might overlook in the ocean,” she added, noting that it also will feature squid, octopus and cuttlefish.

The museum has received the first animals for the aquariums.

“They’re residing in quarantine tanks to ensure that we keep everyone healthy,” Hipschman said. “More will be arriving in the coming weeks as we prepare.”

A ground-breaking ceremony for the museum overhaul was held on Jan. 18.

PHOTO PROVIDED A new traveling exhibit, “Coral Reefs: Nurseries of the Sea,” is at the museum.

The project focused on three areas: renovating the facade of the building and the front entrance; introducing the aquariums as a living collection; and increasing exhibit and program space.

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

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

The public is invited to come by and see the changes.

“We encourage people to stop by now,” she said, adding that a second visit later this year when the Living Gallery is unveiled also will call for another peek inside. “It’s worth the two visits.”

PHOTO PROVIDED Artwork covers the new walls along the outside of the museum.

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.

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

Children under age 5 and active military are free.

The museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It will be open today, Jan. 1, for limited hours – from noon to 4 p.m.

For more information or updates, visit www.shellmuseum.org or call 239-395-2233.

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