Recovery begins at the National Shell Museum

By Kirsti Scott

March 2023

Great Hall of Shells: Now

Great Hall of Shells: Now.


Great Hall of Shells: Before

Great Hall of Shells: Before.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island, Florida, sustained damage when Hurricane Ian blasted through in September 2022. “On the lower level, the living gallery suffered major damage and animal loss of life,” says Clair Beckmann, Museum Board Trustee. “But, the new roof held in most places, and the Great Hall and seashell collection took no damage.” Staff and a mitigation company have worked non-stop on recovery. “Yes, it will take time for the museum and the island to be back to welcoming masses of visitors, but forward progress is happening,” adds Clair. The museum continues to host online lectures, do outreach, and is even planning an exhibit of photos from Ian submitted by the public to aid in the island healing.

Basic infrastructure on Sanibel has been restored, including the bridge to the island, as well as water, electricity, and internet throughout about 90% of the island. Businesses are slowly reopening as cleanup allows, though around 20% of structures were destroyed and virtually all structures have sustained some degree of significant damage. While the pre-storm population was 6,500 year-round residents and about 20,000 seasonal residents, only several hundred residents are now living on the island. All beaches and parks remain closed.

national seashell museum damage from hurricane ian

reconstruction at bailey matthews shell museum in florida

rebuilding seashell museum after hurricane in sanibel

According to Sam Ankerson, Executive Director of the museum, recovery has begun at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. “Following seven weeks of cleaning and interior demolition, all debris and water-damaged and moldy surfaces have been removed,” Sam says. “Power, water, and internet were restored to the museum in November, and staff have been working daily onsite since that time.” The staff have salvaged equipment, general contractors are providing proposals, and the museum is working to secure an SBA loan, aid from FEMA, and donations.

Since it’s not yet open to the public, the museum is developing mobile and online programs. Sam says, “We are launching (or re-launching) K–12 mobile outreach programs, monthly online lecture series, new ‘citizen science’ biodiversity fieldwork, and a new exhibit of photographs by community members of Hurricane Ian and its aftermath.”

Looking ahead, the museum is working to create exhibits and educational programs that are impactful and relevant to the current post-storm situation for the community—and to rebuild at the fastest pace and most reasonable cost possible. “During rebuilding, we want to make improvements and updates to the facility from both a programmatic perspective (i.e., come back better), and a mitigation (i.e., stronger protections for future weather events),” says Sam. They will need the support of the local and national community of shell enthusiasts to sustain rebuilding and the museum’s educational mission and operations until the region fully recovers. Learn more at

Learn more about seashells

nature and history of seashells and collecting

Learn more about identifying shells, the history of seashell collecting, great shelling beaches, and the lives of the animals who make the shells we find on the beach. Articles ›

No live shelling: Be sure shells are empty and sand dollars, sea stars, and sea urchins are no longer alive before you bring them home.

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2023 issue.

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