Not for Profit: St. Croix Seashell Society

Claude O. Markoe Elementary School student Nyarah McMillan blows a conch during the school's visit in February to the shell exhibit.There’s a new society on St. Croix and anyone can join. All you need is the love of seashells. The St. Croix Seashell Society exhibit at Fort Frederik features around 400 seashells, other mollusks, and echinoderms.

Founding members Sharon Grimes, Zoraida Jacobs, Elizabeth Robb, and Marcia Taylor encourage people to become members of the society to join them in their mission to preserve and exhibit the shells. The mission of the society is to inspire, educate and increase awareness and appreciation of seashells through exhibits and educational programs.

The founders are looking for other seashell collectors to join them and share their shells with the public, sponsor a shelf or a display case. Collectors can create an exhibit from their families’ treasures through donation or loan of shells to the society for exhibits.

The women hope to highlight the beauty of the marine ecology of St. Croix and encourage a community sharing of resources, and ultimately foster a growing community stewardship for the ecology of the island.

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“This has been a dream of ours to have a seashell museum on St. Croix,” Grimes said. “It just came together last year and mushroomed.”

The founders met over the years through different organizations and mutual acquaintances. The shells on display are from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and their own private collections.

The society installed the exhibits at the fort in November. The local and foreign shells, labeled with common and scientific names, are displayed in glass cases. There are details about the ecology and the historical and cultural importance of the shells. The exhibit provides information on local rules and regulations for the protection of shells.

Grimes said DPNR has issued the society permits for a limited number of shells that can be collected for educational purposes.

“It’s prohibited by law to take shells, coral, or sand from the Virgin Islands,” Grimes said. “The number of shells has dwindled over the years for a multitude of reasons.”

It could be due to over-collecting, she said, pollution, or not letting shell fish mature to legal catch sizes. She said shells have been used for building and decorating and have been taken off the island.

One of the displays in the Seashell Society's exhibition at Fort Frederik. (Photo provided by Sharon Grimes)Taylor said the founders bring different strengths to the organization and they all love shells and want to share this love with others.

Taylor, a diver, has been a marine scientist in the Virgin Islands since 1980, working in marine science at the University of the Virgin Islands. She also does outreach and education about the marine environment. Taylor started using seashells in outreach activities and found that students really loved them.

“They were fascinated by these beautiful shells which led to questions about the organisms that made them and where they live,” Taylor said. “The students have seen many of these shells before and didn’t know anything about them. I realized that was a great “hook” for engaging them in marine science.”

Taylor deals with the echinoderms; sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea biscuits for the society.

Grimes, a diver and a collector since she was a young girl landlocked in Texas, said she was a member of the North Texas Conchological Society. She had exhibited shells at the Dallas Museum of Natural History.

Jacobs, employed in the Department of Education, said she is involved in the society because she agrees the shells are a hook to get students interested in protecting the marine environment. She added they are beautiful too and very much a part of the local culture.

The group held an opening gala in January with around 250 attending. The event included an accompanying seashell art exhibit. In February they hosted a Sailor’s Valentine’s presentation and Junie Bomba, local musician and artist, gave Claude O. Markoe students a presentation on the queen conch. In March the society hosted a presentation by Brian Bishop of Crucian Gold Jewelry Shop, learning how the conch horn is made and how to play it.

Bishop has an exhibit at the museum of beautiful helmet and trumpet shells collected in the 1980s, before permits were required.

In April they will celebrate National Library Week and The Week of the Young Child, with local story teller Veronica Gordon sharing a story she wrote for her son titled “Herman the Hermit Crab.”

“Ideally we would like to get more members and volunteers to help with programs and to staff the exhibit during fort operating hours,” Grimes said.

The fort is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and on cruise ship days. The fort admission fee is $3 general admission, $1 for students and seniors, and includes entrance to the exhibit. Grimes said they are in negotiations to house the exhibit at the fort permanently.

St. Croix Seashell Society is funded in part by the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts, Friends of Fort Frederik, and Mary E. Masters, and is a project of the St. Croix Foundation. More information about the Seashell Society is available by sending an email to [email protected]

 

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