Thanks to our friends at the Daily Breeze for this update!
Just two weeks after debuting its sparkling new $6 million aquarium expansion in March, Sanibel’s nonprofit Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum had to close its doors as the world grappled with COVID-19.
Now open again with special safety practices, the museum is launching a Re-Re-Opening of “Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks.”
“We’re pushing the reset button,” said Dorrie Hipschman, executive director. “We poured our hearts into this incredible new experience, shutting down for months to build special aquariums for living animals. We were so proud to debut it in March and then everything just stopped.”
Now that visitors are beginning to return to Sanibel — indisputably “The Shelling Capital of the World” — the museum is ready to enthrall them.
It’s the only place in the world to see a living junonia a rare, highly prized species for shell collectors. Its renowned gallery of rare and record-breaking shells from around the world is awe-inspiring.
And the museum’s new experience sharpens the focus on mollusks, the live animals that create those stunning shells prized by beachgoers and collectors alike.
Beyond Shells: The Mysterious World of Mollusks consists of 11 aquariums ranging in size from 100 to 900 gallons, which are home to giant clams, gastropods and a very social giant pacific octopus.
Two 15-foot-long touch pools let young visitors get their hands wet as they explore the fascinating world of mollusks, furthering the museum’s educational efforts that typically reach thousands of schoolchildren each year.
Interactive experiences reveal fascinating hidden worlds behind these species. For instance, the giant Pacific octopus, is a mollusk, too, related to scallops, oysters, snails and slugs; it’s just seen its shell disappear over millions of years of evolution.
The museum has faced the new post-COVID reality head-on, committed to providing a safe experience. Its leaders have taken the “SanCap Safe” pledge, embracing best practices compiled by the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce to make health and wellness a priority.
The entire museum is deep-cleaned before opening and after closing, and disinfected thoroughly at midday. There’s plenty of room for social distancing, with capacity limited to 50 percent. Masks are required and available for purchase on site if you forget to bring one; hand-washing stations have been added; transactions are cashless.
Additionally, guests can now choose to purchase their tickets online or by phone and reserve a morning or afternoon slot to visit the museum and ensure their immediate entry upon arrival. (Tickets are always also available day of visit at the door.)
To purchase tickets, call the museum at 239-395-2233 or go to shellmuseum.org.
For a value-added experience, the museum’s educators offer special daily programming outdoors, and every guest receives a shell crafting kit to take home.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $23.95 for adults (18 and older), $21.95 for seniors, $14.95 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.
The expansion comes as the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum celebrates its 25th anniversary, having welcomed more than 1 million visitors to date.