Sanibel Shell Show Festival
LAST UPDATED: 01 February 2016

When I was a kid, we referred to the Sanibel Shell Show as the "Shell Fair". It was a for the curious and serious collectors alike.

As a young girl, I dreamed of one day having a collection of specimen shells that would be worthy of display at this annual event. Well, that never happened. However, after obtaining a Master's Degree in Biochemistry, I donated a large collection of my shells to the University of Central Florida's Biology Department where it remained on display for many years (see photo).

After touring UCF with my son this year, we detoured to the Biology building only to find that my shells were no where to be found. Now after 30 years, I really didn't expect that they would still be there, but I had to know where they were. Our next detour was to the Administration Office of the Biology Department. Imagine my shock when Dr.Graham Worthy, the Head of the Department, informed me that new custom cabinets were being made just for my shells! They will soon be back on display in the Administration Office and the Conference Rooms of UCF's Biology Department.

Still I wonder if I will ever have a collection worthy of display at the Sanibel Shell Festival...

Every year, in peak season, thousands of people flock to our tiny island for one reason: Sanibel's Annual Shell Show and Festival (The Sanibel Shell Fair). It's hard to believe that this Shell Show event began in 1937, and attracted visitors for 26 years before the causeway was ever built.

HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW SHELLING? (Answers at the bottom of the article)

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The Shell Festival features the Shell Show where collectors specimens are judged. It is the most prestigious show in North America and attracts shell lovers from all over the world.

In addition to the judged collections, there are many shell craft and artistic creations on display for sale.

The Sanibel Captiva Shell Club creates a Shell Festival Tee Shirt each year. The Shell Club was formed in 1961 and meets at the Bailey Matthews Shell Museum on the third Sunday in the Months of October - March. The Sanibel Shell Show is the clubs largest event each year.

Another feature is the touch tank with live shell exhibits to help educate visitors on the life cycle of the mollusk and how they interact with the environment.

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The Shell Festival is a major fund raising event for both the Sanibel Community Association and the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club. Funds raised by the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club are given as grants to local marine conservation organizations and for scholarships to the USF and FGCU Departments of Marine & Ecological Science. Proceeds from shell and art sales outside support the Sanibel Community House.


I personally think that Sanibel is the #1 shelling beach in the world. Even with the massive amount of visitors, our beaches deliver collections for anyone willing to look. There are many remote beaches with mounds of shells for the taking simply because they are less visited allowing shells to accumulate. For example the island of Diego Garcia offers some of the most incredible shells one could imagine. My personal collection boasts many shells that were sent by a US Marine, who while their ship stopped to refuel on this tiny military restricted island in the middle of the Indian Ocean spent 20 minutes on the beach (where swimming was prohibited due to the abundant shark population) picking up shells.

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Where are Your Favorite Shelling Beaches?

Each year, the Bailey Matthew's Shell Museum has the Under the Sea Gala as well as the Annual Celebrity Dinner to support the programs offered by this national treasure. We hope to see you there!

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