The Nursery, part of Anne Joffe's Mollusk General Hospital at this year's Shell Show in the Community House. Shell Club photo
The Nursery, part of Anne Joffe's Mollusk General Hospital at this year's Shell Show in the Community House. Shell Club photo

There has never been an exhibit like it before at the Sanibel Shell Show. It contains a bit of whimsy, lots of fun and moreover, it is an educational experience.

It’s “Mollusk General Hospital,” and all the patients are injured seashells. This 48-foot long exhibit is one of 90 Scientific Division Exhibits that can be seen at the show, an intricate part of the 79th Annual Sanibel Shell Festival. This exhibit focuses on shells that have been damaged in a number of ways. That is why they are “in the hospital.” The exhibit explains how their injuries may have occurred, and how the mollusks have mended their shells.

The Shell Festival is March 3-5 at the Sanibel Community House, 2173 Periwinkle Way. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m except Saturday 9-4. For more information (239) 472-2155 or go to https://sites.google.com/site/sanibelshellfestival/.

Mollusk General Hospital has all the facilities you would find in a real hospital including a waiting room, an emergency room, surgery, and even a radiology department with shells and their x-rays. The doctors and other hospital staff have been created out of shells. All the injured shells are displayed in their hospital beds with their identification card hanging like a chart on the end of their bed. There even is a nursery with the baby shells in their cribs.

Exhibitor Anne Joffe has been studying how injured mollusks heal themselves for 35 years. She has been working on the exhibit for four years. It is something not to miss.

After you leave “the hospital,” look for the sea butterfly exhibit. Have you ever seen one? Chances are that you haven’t because they are very small and live in the open sea. They are highly specialized mollusks called pteropods whose foot has divided to become swimming wings. They spend their entire lives as inhabitants of planktonic communities of drifting organisms. Their shells are extremely delicate and recent studies have documented that the souring of our seas by carbon-dioxide emissions are dissolving pteropods along the U.S. West Coast right now. Sea butterflies are important because they provide food for salmon, herring and other fish. Be ready to look into small, magnified boxes to see these shells better. They are small.

Adjacent to the Scientific Exhibit Hall is the Artistic Hall where 216 beautiful shell and shell related artistic pieces fill the room. Very tiny flowers, large bouquets, intricate sailor’s valentines, photography and an array of artistic creations cover the walls and exhibit tables.

You will find lots to do on the Sanibel Shell Festival grounds. Take the opportunity to create some shell art with assistance from expert shell crafters. You can buy shells from Sanibel and around the world, some for as little as 25 cents each. Visit the “Live Tank” where Sanibel School sixth graders will introduce you to live mollusks and explain what they eat, how they move and how they reproduce.

While there is no entrance fee to the Shell Festival grounds, a $5.00 donation is requested to attend the inside Shell Show. Anyone who makes the requested donation will also be granted free admission to The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum during the Shell Festival, an $11 value.

All the funds raised by the Sanibel-Captiva Shell Club are given in the form of grants to several local marine education and conservation organizations and for scholarship funds at the University of South Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University Departments of Marine & Ecological Science. All the funds raised by the outdoor activities go to the maintenance of the Sanibel Community House.