SanCap Chamber ribbon-cutting marks reopening of shell museum phase one

Well-wishers gathered to welcome the shell museum’s phase one reopening with a SanCap Chamber ribbon-cutting.

Only 2-1/2 years after debuting its Living Gallery of Aquariums in March 2020, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum & Aquarium lost about 80 percent of its marine life and everything but the ground level’s 11 structural aquarium tanks to Hurricane Ian. On March 4, along with the SanCap Chamber, it celebrated the complete restoration of the aquariums and the Museum Store with a ribbon-cutting. The museum’s second level is expected to reopen later this spring.

“Like a lot of people and organizations, the overall difficulty, pace, and unpredictability of the rebuilding process has been and continues to be a major challenge,” said executive director Sam Ankerson. “There’s so many different inputs and factors; getting them to work in sync with each other is a challenge I’m sure many can identify with.”

Ankerson and two staffers were able to reach the museum on Oct. 2, four days after Ian hit. They released surviving indigenous mollusks and handed off exotic species to staff from Tampa’s Florida Aquarium to harbor during the museum’s down time.

“Without the support of the communities of the islands, shelling enthusiasts, and local and regional governments, there would not be a recovery for the museum,” he said. “From philanthropy to volunteer sweat equity to assistance in navigating the post-storm chaos and ongoing bureaucratic challenges, the overall solidarity and support is essential and something we’ll never forget.”

The aquariums will hold basically the same mollusk populations as before – 60 different species and 350 animals – including headliners like the two-spot octopus, junonia, giant clam, seahorses, and flamboyant cuttlefish. The popular giant Pacific octopus will return at a later date. Exhibit space has expanded to provide more info about the biology of the animals and how the museum cares for them, plus nine new informational videos.

The museum temporarily opened its second-level Great Hall of Shells and exhibit space between Feb. 1 and April 30 last year. It will take the opportunity now to institute a redesign that was in the plans before the storm.

“The reopening of the shell museum is huge for the islands’ overall recovery and economic outlook,” said John Lai, SanCap Chamber president and CEO. “It is a pillar of the islands’ conservation ethic and tourism industry, and we applaud its return and ongoing progress.”

“More than ever, in the post-storm period, the chamber has demonstrated its superb leadership of the business sector,” said Ankerson. “It reopened quickly and positively, it provides important information and metrics in a timely way, takes courageous and principled positions on behalf of the environment that is our brand, and is steadfast encouragement for all businesses reopening at whatever level they can. We’re lucky for it!”