Conducting an informal survey on the subject of going to the beach, “looking for seashells” was listed as the favorite activity by one hundred percent of survey participants. Okay, so I really asked my three kids what their favorite part of going to the beach is and the answer was pretty obvious. Honestly, my kids could literally spend endless quantities of time pacing up and down the beach looking for shells, crabs, jelly fish, and buried treasure. I can’t imagine a better way to pass an afternoon in a tropical paradise.
And, in Florida, there’s probably no better place to find seashells than on Sanibel Island, near Ft. Myers on the Gulf Cost. Because Sanibel Island runs in more of an east-west direction than other area islands running parallel to the mainland coast, the the tide and the wind constantly replenish over 300 different seashells in this shell-seekers heaven.
Listed in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, The Bailey-Matthew’s Shell Museum on Sanibel Island offers something educational, beautiful, and just plain interesting, no matter what your age. First of all, admission to the museum is a reasonable $7 for adults and $4 for kids ages 5-16 (children 4 and under are free). With 26 exhibits, including a children’s learning lab, live tank demonstrations, and MMMM…Mollusks!, you’ll want to leave at least a half an hour to watch The Secret Lives of Seashells (viewing every 30 minutes in the theater just off the main lobby). Kids, especially, will learn how seashells are formed and that mollusks are truly amazing, living, animals.
Offering weekly workshops, special programs, and trips (like free Family Beach Walks: Walk the Beach with Experts), it’s worth taking a quick glance at the museum website before you visit the area. In addition, excellent print resource materials are provided between the front desk and the theater in the museum lobby. You’ll find subjects like “What Shell Seekers Need to Know About Tides,” “How, When, and Where to Find Shells,” “Safe Travel for Shells: How to Get Them Home in One Piece,” and “Cleaning Your Shells” (and, for any of you who have previously experienced the distinct odor of a decomposing mollusk, take one for you and one for a friend).
But wait, there’s more.
Extending out into the community, the museum has partnered with Adventures in Paradise, an area outfitter and sea cruise and fishing company. In particular, the Sealife Encounter Excursion is an interactive and educational experience going out through San Carlos Bay and into the grass beds on the uninhabited Picnic Island. Scooping with nets for pufferfish, crabs and mollusks, the ocean life is carefully examined and returned back to its habitat.
If your interest in shells and mollusks extends beyond a casual hobby, consider a visit to the Shell Museum Library on the second level. Holding an extensive collection of scientific and popular books, scientific journals, and shell-club newsletters from around the world, the library itself is about as impressive as the museum. Also on the second floor is a research and specimen collection area for scientists, volunteers, and researchers. Yours truly is pictured (to the left) holding one of the largest horse conch shells in the entire state of Florida. I was honored to have a behind-the-scenes look into why the The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is accredited with prestigious others in the American Association of Museums.
During different times of the year, day camps, summer camps, and school programs are hosted at or by the museum. Below is a short video of my brief experience at The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum.