On the heels of its $6 million Beyond Shells aquarium gallery, which opened in March 2020, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum strives to bring residents back again and again. Sam Ankerson, museum executive director, shared plans for new programming at the Nov. 10 business luncheon meeting of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, held at Casa Ybel Resort’s Thistle Lodge.


“Where do we go from here?” he said. “We want visitors to access the museum more often. We want to foster richer educational experiences and greater appreciation for shells and marine creatures.”


Ankerson, who took his position in March, thanked attendees for being what he called “the most welcoming community.” He gave an overview of the shell museum with slides and facts, including that it is the only museum in the U.S. whose primary focus is on shells, and it has the largest exhibit of shells in the country.


The recent Beyond Shells component, with nine aquariums and two touch pools on the ground level, took the museum in a different direction, giving visitors a new way to talk about their shells, Ankerson said. The expansion focuses on the living animals, not just their shells. “We’re the only museum dedicated to this distinct group of animals,” he said, explaining that the mollusk classification goes beyond shelled animals to octopus, cuttlefish, squid, and other marine creatures.


As part of its new initiative to keep visitors coming back, the shell museum is planning traveling exhibits, lectures, and adult classes. Its programming aims to increase the museum’s relevance to the local community.

Upcoming exhibits include Red, Blue, Green: An Introduction to Water Quality in Southwest Florida in partnership with SCCF and the News-Press from Jan. 15 through June 12; and Black Water Moments: Nocturnal Photography of Open-Ocean Mollusks from Dec. 10 through May 30.


To the business community, Ankerson sent the message of partnership, of developing package discounts and other programs for hotel guests and retail customers.


“Sam comes to our community with experience from the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach in communications, visitor experience, and programming,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “We look forward to great collaborations that go beyond the tremendous tourism draw the museum represents.”


Lai also introduced Pam Brown, from the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, who spoke about the VCB’s new marketing strategy branded “Fort Myers: Beaches, Islands & Neighborhoods.” He announced the chamber’s plans to make a push to extend Visit Florida’s tenure as one of its legislative priority, and encouraged members to support Luminary Holiday Shopping Dec. 3 on Sanibel Island and Dec. 4 on Captiva Island.


Upcoming business luncheons include Dec. 8 at The Community House with speakers Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith and the new City Manager Dana Souza; and Jan. 12 at Sundial Beach Resort with speaker Ben Siegel, executive director at Southwest Florida International Airport.



The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With more than 460 active Chamber members from both islands and businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr., Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the visitor center one of 13 official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers in the state. It is open 365 days a year and provides comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, and where to stay, shop, and dine. The chamber website sanibel-captiva.org receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year.


For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org or contact Landen Drake, communications and marketing manager, at 239-472-8255 or [email protected].