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Collecting Nature’s Wonders

Doug Snook, the ‘Shell Man’

Most of us will have gone to a beach, found a treasured shell chosen for its vivid colours, amazing markings or uniformity of natural design and kept it in a special hiding place, but not many of us will have gone on to collect in excess of 17,000 of them, from around the world. Local man Doug Snook has done just that, and his house is now a veritable museum of all things belonging to the world of conchology. All intrinsically and individually labeled in over 560 specimen trays. Every one with a history and story to tell.

“I’ve collected shells since I was a boy, there is just something about them that attracts me to them, I have hunted them in op shops, been overseas to collections, and more recently bought them over the internet. Judith, my wife and I have even brought two home on our laps on the plane from Australia,” says Doug.

The collection is valuable, both monetarily and sentimentally, but it is the knowledge and education that the collection comes with that is potentially the most valuable. With each shell named with its proper and common names, where it comes from and preserved so perfectly, the collection could give generations of kiwis the opportunity to see the shells of the world that they would never have the opportunity to see.

“Seashells are an integral part of coastal ecosystems: They provide materials for birds' nests, a home or attachment surface for algae, sea grass, sponges and a host of other microorganisms. Fish use them to hide from predators, and hermit crabs use them as temporary shelters. They are regarded as the sea’s abundant treasure but with the shift to caring for our oceans and our planet, collections like this are vitally important to educate our future generations as to the wonder and importance of preserving our sea life.”

Doug has shown his collection in many a show over the years and has until recently acted as a volunteer consultant with Auckland Museum's marine department, helping staff with scientific identification of shells. But it is now time to pass the collection on and ensure it continues to give pleasure to future shell lovers.

“I would love the collection to go to someone locally that will set it up in such a way that it becomes a local shell museum with most of them on display for people to enjoy. Big museums don’t have the space or expertise to give the whole collection the space it deserves so I would prefer to find space for a dedicated shell museum. But I know that won’t be easy.”

If any elocal readers know of anyone that has a potential interest in Doug’s collection, we would ask that you get in touch with us at editorial@elocal.co.nz and we will pass the details on.