The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is one of the most popular attractions on the island according to those who measure such things – U.S. News, TripAdvisor, Fodor’s Travel Group and others. It is the only museum in the country that is devoted solely to shells and the mollusks that make them. It has more shells than the Smithsonian Institute. The goal of the museum is to help people become aware of the importance of shells and to educate them about the role of shells in our culture and history. They take this very seriously but with a twinkle. Learning about shells need not be dull.
THE BEGINNING – The museum was born as an idea in the mid 1980’s. It was a strong enough concept to attract Raymond Burr, an acknowledged lover and collector of shells, to be the chairman of the initial fund-raising campaign. That was completed successfully and the museum became a reality. It opened to the public in 1995. It has since earned the accreditation of the American Association of Museums and established strong ties with national and international organizations with their staffs of leading marine biologists. They have also developed ongoing educational relationships with local organizations such as The Sanibel Library, The Sanibel School, The Conservation Foundation and shell clubs throughout Florida.
YOUR VISIT – The museum is located at 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (excluding holidays).The admission fee is $23.95 for adults 18 plus years, $14.95 for youths 12 to 17 years and $8.95 for children 5 to 11 years. Children under 4 are free as are active duty military. There is no charge for parking. You can go through the museum as part of a group or by yourself. The groups are led by a well-educated, trained staff or a docent who is prepared to answer any questions. The museum experience includes several kinds of activities – exhibits. beach walks and eco-travel to important shell locations.
- Exhibits – There are 30 permanent exhibits as well as several temporary exhibits at different times of the year. The exhibits feature local shells, shells from around the world, the original shell people and shells within the context of art, architecture and human history. They also include the Children’s Learning Lab – It has interactive displays, shell games, a live shell tank and a hands-on play area.
- Beach Walks – The museum supports two beach walks – The daily Island Inn Beach Walk and the monthly Bunche Beach Walks. Both are led by a marine biologist and last for about an hour. The Island Inn walk leaves from the beach in front of the Island Inn at 9 AM and has a fee of $10 for adults and $7 for children. You learn from the shells, mollusks and other marine life that has washed ashore from the gulf waters. The monthly Bunche Beach walk is in Fort Myers and is an experience with low-tide bay waters and their sea life. The fee is the same as for the Island Inn walk for museum members. $2 more if not members. The beach walks are so well attended they require a reservation.
- Eco-travel – takes you on an expedition to a diverse habitat, national park or a private preserve to observe marine mollusks in their special habitat – a recent destination was Costa Rica. The time and cost of each trip will vary depending on when and where they are scheduled.
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is a treasured asset for the islands that has a lot to offer both to residents and visitors on a rainy or sunny day. It was made possible through the giving nature of the island with their donation of land and funds and it is now giving back to the islands. If you would like to learn more about the museum call toll free at 888 679 6450 or locally at 239 395 2233 or go to www.shellmuseum.org.