MARCO ISLAND — The Marco Island Shell Club members have had a very busy month. A few weeks ago, they hosted their annual shell show which was attended by more than 2600 people.
With something for everyone to enjoy – young to old – visitors viewed 35 scientific exhibits and some 105 creative artistic exhibits that numbered the most ever.
Of the 18 new members who exhibited in the artistic division as novices, one junior exhibitor Sean Crocetti, the first in several years, received a blue ribbon for his “Pac-Man” shell exhibit.
Attendees picked up shell art and décor for personal and gift giving like intricate shell floral arrangements and home décor pieces. Bags of hand-picked local shells were also a big seller.
Proceeds from the show cover the club’s expenses and funding for scholarships. Next year’s shell show will be held March 14-16, at the United Church of Marco Island.
As a finale to the active season, the club held their annual thank you dinner and annual meeting on March 21, also at the church. In addition committee chair reports, approval of the new budget, the new club officers were installed for next season.
Volunteers were also commended for their self-less work in all phases of the club activities and three persons were given honorary membership for their dedication to the club.
Emily Savage, past president (1985-86) was recognized for her generosity, for teaching shell art and for promoting appreciation for the marine environment.
Bill and Amy Tripp were acknowledged for their generous donations and commitment in furthering the knowledge of malacology, the branch of invertebrate zoology which deals with the study of mollusks.
Tommy Barfield Elementary students who participated in the club’s coloring book contest earlier this year were also recognized.
However, the highlight of the program was presentations by two Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) students, the recipients of the club’s academic and merit-based scholarship grants to support students doing research in environmental science.
According to Carolyn Ginther scholarship and grant chair, FGCU was chosen from which to select potential scholarship recipients since the school focuses on the marine sciences and related fields.
She said that one tuition scholarship of $1200 is given to a junior or senior with a “B” average, majoring in marine science.
FGCU screens the applicants and forwards the top three candidates to the club’s scholarship and grants committee for evaluation.
One of two other scholarships is the Marco Island Shell Club’s $2500 Graduate Competitive Research Scholarship that was presented to Nicole Fronczkowski.
In her final year toward attaining her master’s degree, Fronczkowski is majoring in environmental science with a concentration is in coastal geology and carbonate sedimentology.
The graduate student researched worm rock, an extinct form found in few places in the world, one of which is off of coast of the 10,000 Islands.
Her presentation detailed her work on the growth patterns of vermetus nigricans, the worm snail, also known as wormrock, wormwood and red pipe coral.
Usually spotted as a small part of large reefs, the snail is unique and bizarre and exhibits circular shaped growth patterns that piqued Fronczkowski’s interest in the patterns’ evolutionary advantages.
“Sediment samples have also been taken to determine which parts of the islands are mangroves growing on vermetid snail reefs and which parts are made from oyster reef growth,” explained the graduate student.
With a naturally inquisitive nature, Fronczkowski’s would like to work in the research field or perhaps environmental engineering and advising in our conservation minded community.
She believes that the public can aid in preserving the ecosystem by limiting construction.
“I am impressed that organizations like Rookery Bay Preserve and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation designate fragile land for restoration, conservation or preservation,” she said.
“It is critical that we keep the land free of contaminants, invasive plants and unnecessary infrastructure, because we have to share this land with the wildlife around us. Conservation is a partnership between people and the ecosystem, not a dictatorship.”
The third, an Undergraduate Competitive Research Scholarship of $500 was presented to Molly Rybovich, a senior FGCU student whose major is environmental studies with minors in biology and interdisciplinary studies.
Her research project was entitled “The effects of desiccation on green mussels and eastern oysters” and focused on invasive green mussels, which are infiltrating Southwest Florida.
The scholarship funds were used to buy digital thermometers, gas for the boat, drill bits, rope, traps capable of water suspension, oyster shell bins, thermometers and more.
“This project also fueled my interest in studying oyster reefs. The experience helped to give me a clear direction for my future studies,” said Rybovich.
“Education is the most important way to preserve the environment. We need to teach about the reasons for and how to care for the environment.”
Rybovich plans to attend Louisiana State University in the fall and conduct oyster research, while working toward a master’s of science in renewable natural resources with a concentration in fisheries.
“Several past student recipients have been invited to give presentations to worldwide scientific or marine industry organizations,” said Ginther.
“Last year, the club established a fully funded endowment at FGCU in the amount of $25,000 which will fund the scholarship in perpetuity.”