The Sanibel Community Association on Southwest Florida's Sanibel Island has created a variety of special activities for its 'Shellabration 2012' event from February 26...

The Sanibel Community Association (SCA) on Southwest Florida’s Sanibel Island has created a variety of special activities for its ‘Shellabration 2012’ event from February 26 to March 4, 2012, marking the 75th anniversary of the Sanibel Shell Show & Fair.

So intertwined have Sanibel Island in southwest Florida and its shells become that Sanibel’s identity is totally invested in seashells and the locals call the act of bending down to look at shells the “Sanibel Stoop”. Locals also tout Sanibel Island as one of the top shelling destinations in the world.

Beginning in the early 1900s, the procession of shellers up and down the island’s beaches sparked a friendly competition between guests at two early local hotels – Casa Ybel and The Matthews.

Hallie “Granny” Matthews hosted the Shell Show & Fair in her hotel lobby starting in the late 1920s. By 1931, the growing event moved to the Sanibel Community Association’s (SCA) Community House.

The Sanibel Shell Fair began with Granny Matthews at the Island Inn in the 1920s. Bringing his best shells to Granny is Peter Clapp

“Because it’s the 75th anniversary, we wanted to do something special,” says Marge Meek, president of SCA, which hosts the event. “It shows everyone this is a shell island.”

The week-long Shellabration kicks off with a mass Sanibel Stoop event on the beach on February 17. Designed to break a Guinness Book World Record in the largest shell scavenger-hunt category, the event is looking for hundreds of islanders and visitors to show up for an aerial photo and to sign their names to be sent to the Guinness Book of World Records to prove the island has broken the 208-person record.

On February 26, the Shell Fair & Show tradition returns to its roots at The Matthews, today the historic Island Inn. Traditions on the Beach, the inn’s restaurant, will host a gala “shellegant”.

Fair activities start on Wednesday, February 29 (Leap Year Day) with a Judges Reception Dinner at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The public is invited.

Beachcombers do the "Sanibel Stoop" as they collect sea shells on the beaches of Sanibel Island near Fort Myers in southwest Florida

The following day, the three-day affair runs as it has for decades, with a free fair in the grounds of The Community House and a show ($3 donation) inside The Community House of hobby shell-crafters, professional shell artists, and scientific collections. Hours are Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. More than 200 exhibitors are expected in the 2012 competitive show.

“This year we’re going to be inundated by exhibitors,” says Anne Joffe, Shell Show chair.

The Shell Fair features shells and crafts for perusal and purchase. Visitors can watch shell-crafters at work, purchase snacks and enter a raffle for prizes.

Shell crafters prepare for Halloween and Shellabration 2012 on Sanibel Island near Fort Myers on the southwest coast of Florida

Shellabration’s grand finale on March 4 features a local actor in the role of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whose book Gift from the Sea, written on Sanibel’s sister island, Captiva, compares the stages in a woman’s life to seashells on the beach. An ice-cream social follows the one-woman play.

Businesses and not-for-profits fill the week’s calendar with fossil and historic shell exhibits, guided beach walks, shelling author lectures, edible mollusk restaurant specials, specially made jewelry, and a shell-studded fashion show.

For details and an updated calendar of events, visit For information on planning a vacation to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, visit

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