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About the Museum
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is the only museum in the U.S. devoted solely to shells and the living mollusks that create them, and one of the best things to do on Sanibel Island. Opened in 1995, its mission is to connect people to the natural world through their love of shells. Extensive exhibits, programs and expertise inspire learning, support scientific research, and tell the story of mollusks and their importance.
A world-renowned malacologist, highly trained marine biologists, and passionate staff offer visitors a wealth of knowledge about the scientific, cultural and historical importance of shells. The Museum is the leading authority on Florida’s shells, with exhibits that include the rare junonias, fig snails, pen shells and more. It displays some of the largest shells in the world, including the goliath conch, lightning whelk, Atlantic trumpet triton and horse conch. The nonprofit museum’s scientists also conduct research with local mollusk species.
The Museum is dedicated to sharing this knowledge by educating visitors about mollusks and the shells they create, offering opportunities for guests to exercise their imagination and craft a treasured shell creation to take home. For a perfect Sanibel experience, fun beach walks are held daily. On these one-hour walks, a shell expert teaches about the shells, mollusks and other marine life that arrive on Sanibel’s beaches.
Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks
In March 2020, The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum will unveil a major expansion, “Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks,” adding living animal aquariums to its world-renowned collection in the shelling capital of the world. The new permanent feature transforms the visitor’s experience by connecting them to the little-known live animals that create the ocean’s stunning shells and educating them about the important role these animals play in our ecosystem.
The bright new space gives visitors the chance to rediscover the Museum. Eleven aquariums showcase cold and warm water species like octopuses, cuttles, squid and nautilus. Visitors duck into a pop-up bubble for a 360-degree look at mollusks and fish, and immerse their hands in two engaging 15-foot touch pool experiences.
About Mollusks and the Shells They Create
Mollusks—the marvelous creatures that create shells—are amazing. There are more mollusks in the ocean than all fish and marine mammals combined. They are the second most diverse group of animals on the planet, behind insects. They’re present in nearly all of the world’s natural environments, from cold mountain springs to rainforests and the deepest ocean trenches. Mollusks are a critical food source—including for us. Many species are endangered and going extinct faster than researchers can describe and name them. And because they’re such a widespread group, impacts to mollusks are capable of changing the planet irreversibly.
Impact on the Community
The nonprofit Museum is an integral part of the Sanibel community. In November 2020, it will celebrate its 25th anniversary, welcoming more than 1 million visitors to date. Revenue generated from admission aids conservation education efforts across Lee and Collier counties, such as the mobile school program Mollusks on the Move. This program brings the ocean’s smallest, yet mightiest, live animals to students who may not otherwise experience them. In 2019 alone, Mollusks on the Move covered more than 5,800 miles to reach more than 9,000 students.
The Museum’s expansion will provide opportunities for community partners, too. The neighboring Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (C.R.O.W.) will provide veterinary services to the Museum when needed, allowing C.R.O.W. interns to learn hands-on about invertebrates. In return, the Museum’s new storm-resistant walls and rebar-reinforced floors will provide refuge for C.R.O.W.’s animals during hurricanes.
Leadership in Ocean Conservation
The Museum is a leader in ocean conservation, with staff members contributing crucial scientific research on mollusks. The Museum publishes The Nautilus, a peer-reviewed journal covering diverse aspects of mollusks, including their biology and ecology. Established in 1886, The Nautilus is one of the oldest journals in the malacology field. The Museum’s Science Director and Curator, Dr. Jose H. Leal, serves as Editor-in-Chief.
There is little known about the local favorite Sanibel shell, the junonia. The Museum is the only organization studying live junonias to record their complete diet and lifespan, which helps scientists determine ways to protect them. Through its collections, database, library and staff expertise, the Museum is an important resource for professional and amateur scientists around the world.
There’s an App for That
Never again wonder what type of shell you found! The Museum’s app, available from the App Store or Google Play, identifies Southwest Florida shells in seconds using your phone camera. Learn about the shell and see photos of the living animal that created it. Or browse the Shell Guide right on your phone.
A Very Social Place
Funding and Accreditation
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is a registered 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit, accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
Coming in March, one of the top Sanibel attractions opens a stunning new experience. The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is bringing 10,000 gallons of aquarium exhibits to the island, featuring more than 50 species of mollusks, the incredible animals responsible for creating the shells we love.
What’s new at the Museum?
In March 2020, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum will unveil a major new experience, “Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks,” adding living animal aquariums to its world-renowned collection in the shelling capital of the world. The fun, permanent feature transforms the visitor’s experience by connecting them to the little-known live animals that create the ocean’s stunning shells and educating them about the important role these animals play in our ecosystem.
What are mollusks?
Mollusks are the most diverse group of animals in the ocean. Like many ocean species, they are threatened by rising sea temperatures, habitat loss and overharvesting. There are more mollusks in the ocean than any other animal, yet they’re going extinct faster than newly identified species can be named. Sanibel has protected mollusks for decades, first enacting laws limiting their collection in 1994.
As the shelling capital of the world, the Sanibel community is more invested in the health of mollusks than any other in the world. Sanibel’s mission to protect mollusks can go global. As climate change is threatening mollusk species worldwide, the role of protection, scientific inquiry and expertise in the life histories of live mollusks will become ever more critical. Together, the community can preserve and share these animals with the world. Sanibel, and the Museum, are positioned to be an indispensable resource to educate the public about the importance of shells, mollusks and their delicate, yet critical role in a healthy ocean ecosystem.
How will the aquarium make a positive difference?
Once visitors learn about these small yet crucial animals, they may get involved in the natural world and its future. The Museum’s educational programs will connect people, mollusks and ocean stewardship.
Is the Museum good for kids?
The Museum is fun, educational, exciting, and captivating for kids of all ages, and staff is excited to welcome even more families through the new experience. Daily shell-crafting workshops, provided by Museum staff and included with admission, are a highlight of a visit.
Will the expansion benefit Sanibel’s economy?
The addition of the aquarium will strengthen the experience of the Museum, which benefits the community by employing more than 20 people and spending about $1.5 million in the local economy.
How long should I plan for my visit?
The average visit to the Museum is two hours. It’s a perfect stop to learn about shells and the marine life that created them, then search for them on Sanibel’s famous beaches. Visitors are invited to pick up the Museum’s shell guide, which includes information on more than 400 species and is considered the authoritative guide on local and statewide shells.
What’s the best time to visit the museum?
Make the Museum a destination on day trips and gain a new perspective before heading off on a captivating shelling adventure on Sanibel’s beaches. The Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., although staff recommends visiting before 11 a.m., shortly after opening, for a more exclusive experience.
How much does it cost to visit the museum? Are there any discounts?
Admission is $23.95 for adults (18 and older), $21.95 for seniors, $14.95 for youth (12 to 17) and students with their ID, $8.95 for children (5 to 11) and free to children under 5 and active military. Visitors who bike to the Museum receive $1 off admission.
Admission includes “Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks,” the Museum’s fascinating new permanent experience focusing on the living animals that create shells. For more information, check the Visit page or call 239-395-2233. Daily beach walks are always available and can be reserved by calling the museum.
Is parking available?
A parking lot is located on site, and there’s no charge to park at the Museum. The Museum promotes sustainable lifestyles by offering a discount to visitors that bike to the Museum.
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is the only museum in the U.S. devoted entirely to shells and mollusks, and one of the best things to do on Sanibel Island. It features more than 30 engaging exhibits of stunning shells, showcasing some of the largest and rarest shell specimens in the world, including the goliath conch, lightning whelk and Atlantic trumpet triton, as well as common Southwest Florida shells, fossil shells and more. New in March 2020, “Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks” adds the live animals that create shells to its must-see experiences. New aquariums include live octopuses, giant clams, nautilus, nudibranchs and gastropods, and two 15-foot-long touch pools let young visitors get their hands wet. For a perfect Sanibel experience, fun daily beach walks can be reserved, and the nonprofit museum’s scientists also conduct research with local mollusk species.