The world seems to be the Bailey-Matthews Shell Mu-seum's oyster - literally.
In a week the Museum will hold its inaugural Edible Mollusk Festival and Oyster Eating Contest on Saturday, April 17.
The event, which is being heralded as the first of its kind on the islands, will be held at The Timbers Restaurant and Fish Market from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
But besides an event that will feature contestants trying to slurp down as many oysters as they can in 90 seconds, the museum is getting ready to unveil its latest exhibit Mmm Mollusks.
The new interactive exhibited slated to be unveiled later this month will allow people to learn about edible shell fish and their benefits. Visitorswill be able to get recipes from countries around the globe e-mailed to them.
"One of our hopes is people in the community will be provided with another reason to come back for a return visit," said Kathleen Hoover, the market manager for the Shell Museum. "The interactive nature of the exhibit is very exciting."
What: Inaugural Edible
Mollusk Festival and
Oyster Eating Contest
When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
on Saturday, April 17
Where: The Timbers
Restaurant and Fish
Market, 703 Tarpon Bay
Information: Call Mark
Blust at 560-5305
Crow's Nest ('Tween
But an oyster eating contest and new exhibit is not the only piece of exciting news for the Shell Museum.
Shell Museum official just found out last week the facility received accreditation from the American Association of Museums. They are one of 48 accredited museums in Florida. There are 409 museums in the Sunshine state, according to Dewey Blanton, the spokesman for the American Association of Museums.
To be accredited means they meet and exceed the best practices in museums around the country, Blanton said.
"It doesn't mean that the Sanibel people have the richest or biggest museum, but they have the best," Blanton said.
Accreditation also can add more to the museum's coffers.
Funding from grants and other sources often are made available quicker to accredited museums than non-accredited ones, Blanton said.
That spells hope for a museum trying to make ends meet during a challenging economy.
"It opens more doors," said Hoover.
The Shell Museum is getting ready to bring more awareness to the museum and its plethora of shells, exhibits and education programs geared to help people better understand marine life and its importance.
The staff and board members created a week of fun and entertainment - Edible Mollusk Week - to help deliver this point as well as raise money for the museum.
Mayor Mick Denham signed a proclamation for the week of April 11 to April 17.
Denham said in his proclamation that the city of Sanibel urges every able bodied man, woman and child to eat at least one edible mollusk and visit the Shell Museum's upcoming exhibit.
Laughs and goodwill are expected during the much anticipated Oyster Eating contest in which adventurous souls will put their shellfish-eating skills to the test.
The contest being held at Timbers restaurant on 703 Tarpon Road is open to the public. Oyster eating contestants must collect $250 in pledges to enter.
Contestants will be given a tray filled with 30 preshucked oysters on the half shell. Contestants will have 90 seconds to consume as many oysters as they can. Who ever eats the most oysters wins.
Mark Blust, a Shell Museum board member and manager of Timbers, said the event has already caused quite a buzz in the area. Oysters and islanders?
"It's such a perfect fit," he said.
So far 12 teams have emerged from local businesses and agencies to test their oyster eating prowess. And there's a lot on the line: oyster eating pride and the Oyster Festival trophy. Lily's & Co. Jewelers, Jacaranda, She Sells Sea Shells, Bailey's General Store, Timbers Restaurant, Matzaluna, Doc Ford's, Rotary, Times of The Islands, Kiwanis, Trader's Restaurant, and The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum are all in the contest. The teams are charged with generating pledges totaling $250, Hoover said. Each team will choose an "oyster eater" who will be given 90 seconds to eat the slippery mollusks.
One of the contestants, John Carney is ready to start doing oyster shots. He was asked to join the contest by fellow Rotarians at the Sanibel Captiva Rotary Club.
"I wasn't Rotary Club's first choice, but I was crazy enough to say OK," Carney said with a chuckle.
Carney said he plans to eat at least three oysters - preferably from a shot glass and with drawn butter.
Though Carney has never been in an eating contest before, he is no stranger to silly and odd competitions and events. Last year he participated in the beer crushing event at the Redneck Olympics hosted by the American Legion on Sanibel. He also has participated in dance competitions and is the founder and coordinator of the Sanibel Captiva Chapter of the Polar Bear Club.
Carney is not in the event for the win - some cash for the museum and a few laughs will suit this oyster eating contestant just fine.
"If you're not having fun, you're doing something wrong," he said.
And in case Carney or any of the other contestants try to slip one by and do anything slick or fishy, judges, including Sanibel City Manager, Judie Zimomra, Lily & Co. Jewelers co-owner, Dan Schuyler, Sanibel Mayor Mick Denham, Sanibel City Councilman Marty Harrity, and Timber's owner, Matt Asen will be serving as contest honorary judges. NBC-2 anchor, Clay Miller, will serve as the master of ceremonies.
Other events during Edible Mollusk week include specials on mollusk meals at local restaurants. Aside from the oyster eating event, Timbers will host a raffle for a shell adorned 16-inch biwa pearl necklace with topaz gems donated by Lily & Co. Jewelers, a Boston fish toss, dunk tank, oyster exhibit and crafts and games.
For more information about the oyster eating contest, call Mark Blust at 560-5305.
If you would like to sponsor an oyster eating team or serve as an oyster eater contact Clair Beckmann at 472-4524.