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SANIBEL | Shell Museum plans to reopen in stages

Posted at 10:12 AM, Oct 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-18 10:12:32-04

Crews have been at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum building and painting for months in order to help get the facility back open after Hurricane Ian ripped through the area.

“Where we are standing now is what was and will be our welcome lobby," said Executive Director Sam Ankerson.

Ankerson pointed out whole displays on the first floor that needed to be replaced due to damage saying not much was untouched by the storm.

“These aquarium structures were among the only elements that didn’t suffer any lasting damage.”

It's hard to imagine anything on the first floor wasn't damaged by the storm considering they had nearly five feet of storm surge.

While these aquariums survived, the operating systems in the back and 80% of their animals didn't.

“We lost most of them which was devastating and lost nearly all of the equipment," he said. "So the rebuilding process is to replace and reinstall all the systems, of course, bring in new marine life .”

Ankerson said the operating system was recently completed and they plan to bring animals in by next month. After the shock of the storm wore off, Ankerson said they saw the rebuild process as a way to improve the museum by salvaging what they could like a giant squid replica.

“This giant squid had been up there for about 25 years, so we refurbished it and repainted it and decided to hang it over the lobby.”

The squid replica will now be a piece of history that will welcome guests once the museum finally opens. Museum coordinators also took the rebuild process as an opportunity to expand in other areas. A large portion of their planned changes will be inside the Great Hall of Shells on the second floor.

“It’s going to be a compelling way to show off more shells than we have been able to in the past.”

While they aim to open the first floor around the first of the year, the second floor won’t be ready until March 2024. The outside of the museum also needed restoration work following the storm. Roughly a month ago, volunteers gathered to replant vegetation in the surrounding wetlands.

“The more we can restore the landscape around here, the more it can get back to normal and have wildlife return in greater numbers."

Ankerson said they will continue to need volunteers for more projects as they get closer to reopening, and even after reopening volunteers are welcome to help inside of the museum as well.

You can click here for reopening and volunteering updates.