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It is time for seashells

By Staff | Jan 21, 2020


Shell collecting is the second most popular collecting hobby in the world. Only stamp collectors outnumber shell collectors.

The word “seashells” is synonymous with “Sanibel,” and shell enthusiasts have come from around the United States, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, India, Japan and the Caribbean to the Sanibel Shell Festival to compete in the longest running and most prestigious competitive show in the country. Winning an award at this show means you have “reached the top.” In 2019, ribbon winners came from 60 different cities in 23 different states and four countries.

This year is the 83rd year for the festival, set for March 5-6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and March 7 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Community House, 2173 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel. What can you expect to see at the festival? Shells, of course, but not only those you might find on our beaches. Shells that come from around the world can be seen in fascinating exhibits and exquisite works of art, such as floral bouquets and the ever-popular Sailor’s Valentines.

Have you ever wondered what a mollusk – a live shell – eats, how they move, protect themselves or reproduce? The answers can be found in the exhibit hall, where continually-playing documentaries filmed on Sanibel explain it all. In the same hall, books, jewelry and shells are for sale. The Author’s Table features local authors who will be on hand throughout the festival for book signings and to talk about their books with visitors.

The venue’s grounds are continually a bustle of activity. Do not miss the ongoing shell crafting demonstrations; visitors may have the opportunity to make their own shell flowers or shell animals.


Throughout the winter, volunteers meet at The Community House to sort through donated seashells. If you love shells but do not have the time to look for them on the beach or clean them, head for the Shell Tent. Literally, thousands of shells are for sale and prices start at 25 cents. Large impressive shells and fossils are also for sale.

Next door to the Shell Tent, the Sanibel Shell Crafters can be found selling shell jewelry, mirrors, flower arrangements and “shell critters.” The crafters meet every Monday at The Community House throughout the year to make the objects that are sold at the festival.

The Live Tank area is where The Sanibel School 6th-graders shine. For two months prior to the festival, the students study shells and mollusks – the animals that create the shells. If they pass the course test, they have the opportunity to share their knowledge with the visitors while they view multiple aquariums containing live mollusks.

While there is no fee to access the outside grounds, a $5 donation is requested to visit the vendors, booths and displays inside of the venue. Those who make the donation will also be granted half-price admission to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum during the festival. The museum is the only one in the country dedicated solely to shells and mollusks, with extensive exhibits and hands-on activities.

The funds raised by the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club are given in the form of grants to several local marine education and conservation organizations and scholarship funds at the University of South Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University’s Department of Marine and Ecological Science. All of the funds raised by the outdoor activities go toward the maintenance of The Community House.


For more information, visit sites.google.com/site/sanibelshellfestival.