Your Museum Comes Alive!

Whether you’re a long-time resident or a first-time visitor to Sanibel or Captiva, shells are probably on your mind. Your family delights in them at the beach. You might collect them to take home as souvenirs. Perhaps you’ve become one of our local shell experts!

At the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, we know that mollusks—the marvelous creatures that create the shells­—are amazing animals. There are more mollusks in the ocean than all the fish and marine mammals combined. Mollusks are a critical component of the world’s food web—including our own. Many are endangered and most people don’t know they exist.

One of our live Junonias (not on display)

However, when people meet mollusks, they fall in love with them. It may start with a love and appreciation for their beautiful shells, then through the Museum’s educational platforms; that love grows for the living creatures themselves—the shell creators.

There is no other community in the world that is doing this work. There is no other community in the world that is as invested in the health of these mollusks—and the ocean—as our island friends. That’s why we started the Alive! Campaign, which will expand the Museum to include an innovative aquarium with all types of amazing mollusks, including octopus, cuttlefish, and squid.

We hope to have a nautilus in our new aquarium!

One of the most gratifying aspects of the Alive! Campaign is the enormous and broad participation we have already seen. We’ve already raised nearly 90% of our fundraising goal. We are thrilled to report that we broke ground in early 2019. Construction will take about six months, with an additional six months for aquarium and exhibit design and installation. We are on track to open the aquarium in early 2020.

Based on our momentum, it’s clear that the Museum’s focus on mollusks and our natural environment is greatly inspiring others. There’s real excitement: new people, new ideas, and new resources. It will transform the way we create informed and engaged environmental stewards. That’s more important than ever. Great things will come of this!

We’re grateful to our wonderful community for all that you have done to make Alive! an enormous success so far, and for all that you will do to help us meet remaining priorities in the coming months. You are helping the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum make a difference in our community, and around the world.

This is your museum and we want to keep you up-to-date every step of the way along this journey!


The New Aquarium FAQ


Why Sanibel?

  • Sanibel is the shelling capital of the world.

  • Sanibel is the only place whose identity, laws, and people have made shells—and the animals that create them—part of the very fabric of our community. We led the world when we passed the first-ever live shelling ban in 1994 and we have been protecting these animals ever since.

  • The world will look to Sanibel as the leader and expert in live mollusks. We will preserve, care for, breed, and share these animals with the world. The work is just beginning. So little is still known about these creatures.

  • Sanibel’s local mission is now global. We are reaching out to the world—opening the minds of museum visitors and beachgoers, and spreading a passion for shells to a love for the animals that create them and the ocean they live in.


Where do we start?

  • FIRST: We start here. People come to Sanibel because of our shells and “shell brand.”

  • AND: 9 out of 10 people don’t know that a shell was part of a living animal.

  • FACT: If you don’t know a creature exists, you can’t help to save it.


What can we do?

  • FIRST: Create a unique aquarium: the first mollusk menagerie.

  • AND: The diversity of these animals from all over the world is beyond belief.

  • AND: Enable people to “meet” mollusks eye-to-eye, nose-to-syphon.

  • FACT: It’s an emotional life-changing experience.


How will it make a difference?

  • FIRST: Once you’ve learned that an animal exists, you can’t forget!

  • AND: We will add educational programs to complete the experience.

  • AND: We will connect people, mollusks, and ocean stewardship.

  • FACT: To save something—even the world—you have to emotionally care about it. That’s the change we will make every day, every visitor, every time.


What is the most common visitor comment after a Museum visit?

“WOW, I will never look at the beach in the same way again. You’ve opened up a whole new world for me.”


Will this be good for our environment?

Yes. The Museum’s vision is to connect people to the natural world around them. Our residents and visitors are more connected to shells than are people anywhere else in the world – by extending that connection to shells AND the living animals, we change perceptions of our natural world.


Will this be good for kids?

Yes! The aquarium will educate, delight, inspire, and thrill kids of all ages. And, the revenue generated by the addition of the aquarium will enable the Museum to take our mobile educational programs to more schools throughout Lee County.

Will this be good for our economy?

Yes. The Museum has a $1.6 million annual budget. We employ more than 20 people and spend about $1.3 million in our local economy. The addition of the aquarium will sustain this, benefiting our community.


Will this project bring more visitors to Sanibel?

The Museum does no off-island advertising. We encourage people who are already on the island to learn more about our wonderful sanctuary island and the need to preserve its wildlife, waters, and beaches.


Will this project cause more traffic?

The Museum does not bring traffic to the island, and we persuade visitors to get off the road and spend several hours in the Museum. Even on our busiest days, we have plenty of parking.

Who is designing the aquarium?

Our good friends over at Tenji, Inc.! They're experts in aquarium design and construction.


Will the Museum expand or require more land?

No. All improvements will be within the existing developed area. The Museum’s footprint will remain the same.


Will the Museum have to be closed during construction?

We are currently closed, and planning to reopen in mid-July. Check back for updates and thank you for your patience!


What will happen in a hurricane or bad weather?

The building improvements will be built to current hurricane standards. The aquarium will have a generator for animal life support in the event of a power failure.


How will we afford it?

The Museum is raising funds for the project. Once operational, the new facilities pay for themselves and can be used to underwrite programs.


How can I help?

Click the donate button below or call Executive Director Dorrie Hipschman or Assistant Director Melanie Moraga at 239-395-2233.

“We have the opportunity before us to transform the way we teach residents and visitors about the ocean and our local habitat. Caring for the environment is important for each and every one of us. The aquarium addition will help us inspire the next wave of ocean leaders!


—Chris Davison, Campaign Cabinet Member & Former Board President

“Most people do not know mollusks are the creators of the beautiful shells found on our beaches. Exhibits can go a long way to educate, but seeing live animals in the Museum’s aquarium will solidify the importance of these amazing creatures.


—Richard Johnson, Campaign Cabinet Chair

The aquarium expansion will improve the Museum’s opportunity to connect children with the natural world through their love of seashells. It will help bring the Museum’s mission to life!”


—Holli Martin, Board President