In 1962, during a very low tide in January, more than 70 Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club members and island visitors walked the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva to collect different species of shells, in an attempt to help in the study of mollusk populations trends. Participants then gathered at The Community House to identify their shells and log their finds. The event was repeated each January for years.
Joyce Matthys, an Oregon snowbird and co-chair of this year’s 85th annual Sanibel Shell Festival, discovered an old newspaper clipping of the mollusk count and conceived a modernized version, organizing plans after Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum Curator and Scientific Director Dr. José Leal was asked if a “live” mollusk count would be of interest to the museum.
He reported that it would have scientific value, so on January 3rd, a morning when the low tide was the lowest of the season, about 50 club members and friends headed to the beach to conduct the first-ever Live Mollusk Count on Sanibel Island.
The club divided up the island’s beaches into one-half mile segments. Armed with clipboards, rulers and data forms, two-member teams were deployed to each walk a segment of beach from 7 – 9 a.m.
As we all know, Mother Nature has a mind of her own, and it showed in the count results. The club reported that the number of live mollusks varied widely from one section of beach to another. For instance, some teams only saw a handful of mollusks after walking their half-mile, while others found over a thousand!