May/June 2001

What do you do with all those shells?

You’ve probably heard that old Florida tourist joke: Where do you find the most seashells? Why, right over the state line in Georgia, where motorists dump them out because they can’t stand the smell any longer!
   It has a ring of truth. And although live shelling is banned on Sanibel, even empty shells sometimes stink if they aren’t properly cleaned. Shells can be easily cleaned by soaking them for a few hours in a solution of one-third or one-half bleach, and water. The bleach will not alter the color of the shells.
   Of course for many people, residents and visitors alike, collecting, cleaning, and organizing shells are some of the chief pleasures of being on the islands.
   What to do with all those shells afterward? Perhaps making crafts, decorations, or gifts sounds appealing. If so, here’s a list of local shops that offer plenty of craft supplies. (See another crafty idea in Style, page 24.) But if you end up with too many shells for either your garage or your suitcase, here also are some places seeking donations of shells, so you won’t have to dump them over the state line.

If you keep your shells…
As its name implies, Three Crafty Ladies offers lots of inspiration for shell-based projects. Papier-mâché boxes and picture frames are popular, as are gel candles, clear-glass Christmas balls, and other jars and containers. There are many craft ideas for children, too, and shell-design fabric and shell-theme rubber stamps. Heart of the Island Plaza, 1620 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, 941/472-2893.
   Eckerd Drug Store always stocks many different kinds of baskets, including wire mesh, wicker, straw, wooden, plastic, and cushioned styles. Depending on the season or holiday, the baskets can be a great way to display shells. 2331 Palm Ridge Drive, Sanibel, 941/472-1719.
   Several island shell shops also carry craft supplies, in addition to selling shells from around the world: Neptune’s Treasures, 1101 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, 941/472-3132. Sanibel Seashell Industries, 905 Fitzhugh St., Sanibel, 941-472-1603. She Sells Sea Shells, 1157 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, 941/6991 or 2422 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, 941/472-8080. The Shell Net, Bailey’s Shopping Center, corner of Periwinkle Way and Tarpon Bay Road, Sanibel, 941/472-1702.

Too many shells?
Shellcrafters meet every Monday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Sanibel Community House to make creations that are sold at the nationally known Shell Fair each March. Everyone is welcome to drop in at any time; there are many teachers and supplies are provided. Proceeds from selling the crafts, and also from selling shells, benefit the Sanibel Community Association. After March, the Shellcrafters’ inventory is quite depleted so donations come in handy. Particularly helpful are unbroken, cleaned, and sorted shells. They can be dropped off at the Community House or volunteers will pick them up. Sanibel Community Association, 2173 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, 941/472-2155.
   Sixth-grade students at The Sanibel School spend several months learning about mollusks as part of their science curriculum. To help with their studies, the children are each given a collection of local shells, which they are allowed to keep. (Sixth graders who pass the malacology test are rewarded by getting to staff the highly popular, informative Live Shell Exhibit at the annual Shell Fair.) The school welcomes donations of such hard-to-find local shells as the lace murex, so each student will be able to have one. The Sanibel School, 3840 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, 941/472-1617.
   School shell collection kits are put together by volunteers Ed and Vera Goldstein at The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The educational kits are comprised of about 34 shells, half from Sanibel and Captiva and the other half from foreign countries. Nearly 2,000 of the kits have been shipped to teachers worldwide since 1990. Shell dealers have provided plenty of foreign shells, but the Goldsteins report they can always use more local ones if the shells have been cleaned and sorted.
   In addition to the school kits, the museum is happy to have donations of local shells for filling a giant clamshell near the admission desk. Visiting children are allowed to take one shell from the clam as a souvenir upon leaving the museum. Shells for the giant clam should be cleaned but sorting is not necessary. The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, 941/395-2233 or 888/679-6450.

And don’t forget…
Many vacationers and part-time residents of the islands assemble shell collection kits for children in schools, clubs, or hospitals back home. They are enjoyed by children of all ages, particularly landlocked kids! –Libby Grimm