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Museum in need of shell donations to feed School Kits program

March 2, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

In order to continue fulfilling its educational mission, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is seeking shell donations currently two kinds of shells in particular for its School Kits program.

A long-running initiative at the museum, the Schools Kits include a collection of seashells, teacher's guide and more that can be used by schools, children's museums and similar educational organizations.

"Education is a huge part of our mission," marine biologist Rebecca Mensch, who coordinates the program, said. "We have lots of school groups that come through the museum, lots from Lee County."

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Marine biologist Rebecca Mensch, with the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, shows off one of the shells included in the School Kits program. Behind her are boxes of shells organized by species.

However, many do not have access to the museum's resources, such as out-of-state educators.

"This is a way for them to teach their students about mollusks," she said.

Each School Kit comes with 55 species of shells, of which 45 are local; a 45-page teacher's guide, written by the museum specifically for the program; 30-minute "Mollusks in Action" DVD, which was filmed on Sanibel; laminated shell identification guide; and "Seashells of the World" guide book.

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Mensch noted that the guide book covers the 10 non-local shells included with the kits.

There are also labels for mounting the shells, activity sheets and answer guides.

"Some are a little easier, some are a little harder, so different grades can use them," she said.

The program is primarily geared toward upper middle and lower high school students.

"When students are learning more about biodiversity and how animals are classified and the different groups of animals," Mensch said.

However, kindergarten teachers through college professors have utilized them.

"It's about being able to expose them to a lot of different animals that a lot of landlocked students will never have seen before," she said.

The majority of the shells used in the kits are donated by the public.

"With our local shells, we never buy any of those. We want to make sure that we're getting shells that are only dead-collected," Mensch said. "It's illegal to collect the live animals in Lee County."

Currently, the museum is running low on channeled duck clams and horse conchs.

Channeled duck clams are hard to come by as the shells are fragile, so most found on the beach are broken. Intact ones that are donated also need to come as a pair for the purpose of the program.

"Also it's not a very beautiful colorful shell, so I think it's something a lot of people pass by," she said.

The museum is in need of a few dozen or so pairs.

"Fifty pairs would be great to have," Mensch said. "That would set us up for a bit."

Horse conchs have their own obstacles when it comes to being donated.

Because it is an apex predator, or top of the food chain, the shells are not as easily found on the beaches as those from mollusks lower on the totem pole. It is also the state shell of Florida, so a big keepsake.

"That's the one you pass on to your kids or pass off to your friends when they come to visit," she said.

In addition, the shells must be between 3 inches and 6 inches in length for the kits.

Mensch noted that even one horse conch donation would be appreciated.

"Honestly, we're down to our last few," she said.

Any shells donated to the program must be clean and unaltered.

"We don't want them polished or lacquered or etched or anything," Mensch said.

Those with shells that they no longer need are encouraged to donate them.

"We really like getting them out to the schools," she said of the educational materials and shells included in the School Kits. "We're really interested in them and want to share that interest."

Monetary donations are always welcome, which are used toward sponsoring kits.

For more information, contact Mensch at or 239-395-2233.



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