I recently made the post below to Conch-L. Since I do not know how many here also subscribe to Conch-L, I thought I should post it here too, to get some more responses and comments. I added the last three reasons (not at the Conch-L post). I plan on putting together a summary of the responses I received, and I can post here too, if there is an interest.
Do you know about any publication, study or perhaps an email posting about shell club demographic trends? Is it just my impression or is there a widespread trend of shell club membership to get older and decrease in number in the last decades? When I started going to shell clubs I used to be one of the youngest members or visitors, and that was some 25 years ago. Sadly, usually I am still one of the youngest people in the room. There seems to be very little (if any) new recruitment. I do not say it disrespectfully, but if the trend continues, our hobby will run out of members in a not too distant future.
I have discussed this with shell enthusiasts, and most seem to agree with my perception. Some of the reasons that have been pointed out to me include:
* increased regulations in many places, restricting or forbidding collection of live mollusks (and other organisms);
* kids are being thought that it is bad to collect anything live at the beach;
* kids less interested in outdoors activities, and more interested in video games, TV, etc.;
* kids not wanting to "hang out with grandma" or adults;
* programs at shell clubs are "boring" to a young audience;
* habitat change/overcollecting has led to a dearth of shells in many places;
* life has just become too busy for many (due to school, marriage, kids, sports, health, etc.) to have time for shells;
* interests have shifted away from shells because of different reasons, etc.
At the same time, I also heard that membership in fossil and particularly gems and mineral clubs are growing, so some of the arguments above may not be true or not that important. Or else shells have a different ( i.e., less) appeal than rocks or fossils to kids. I can see that dinosaurs (and probably by association, other fossils) got a huge boost in popularity from movies and TV not too long ago, but perhaps I missed any big PR for rocks.
Any ideas on how to revert the trend (if there is one) in shell clubs, or how to get young people involved and excited about shells again?
I would love to hear that I am wrong and that at least in some places shelling is still popular among youngsters, or that some shell clubs are increasing in size.
Fabio Moretzsohn, Ph.D.
Post Doctoral Research Associate
Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
6300 Ocean Drive, Unit 5869
Corpus Christi, TX 78412-5869
Phone: (361) 825-3230
Fax: (361) 825-2050
Conch-L responses to Fabio's inquiry:
Nov 9; Wesley Thorsson, Hawaiian Malacological Society:
The Hawaiian Malacological Society no longer has a world-wide membership
that peaked to almost 1700 to receive its monthly magazine, Hawaiian Shell
News. When the HSN stopped due to printing costs exceeding dues, there was
little reason for members outside Honolulu to be members. We have about 30
people at monthly meetings 12 times a year and about a third are on the
board of directors. There are new people at many meetings. A few people
bring their children, who are too young for the we have. Members are
adults with new members being added to those that move away from Hawaii.
There has usually been a good percentage of military or retired military in
the club that are divers.
The general public opinion being generated that all shell collecting is bad
for the environment (except, of course, for food and causing major damage)
undoubtedly reduces potential membership. Many clubs suffer from lack of
members to do the things that enable clubs to exist and clubs close down
when those few who do the work tire of it. Usually a very few do almost all
the work. Writers for publications are very limited.
Nov 9; Peggy Williams, author of Shallow Water Turridae of Florida and the Caribbean:
The Sarasota Shell Club is increasing in membership (currently over 100 members), but then we live on a great shelling coast. We offer field trips, shellcraft sessions, a shell show, programs at every meeting, and fun stuff to do at every meeting. We do have some youngish adults who have recently joined but no children.
However, most of the members don't know (and may even resist learning) scientific names. We do have educational talks about shells at each meeting. Of all these members if we get two or three new scientific enthusiasts we'll be glad.
Nov 9; Dan Teven:
The Boston club is slowly shrinking -- which is disappointing for a city that imports college students from all over the world. I joined seven or eight years ago, and in that time I think we've only had three or four people who have turned into regular meeting attendees. I hope there's not a causal relationship.
Nov 10; Tina Murders:
You are absolutely correct in your information (whether anecdotal or scientific,) there are fewer young people in our club area, not just our club. I believe we're beginning to see the expression of the baby boom in population distribution.
In Pinellas County, Florida, we have the oldest demographic profile in the nation by far. Younger people are not moving into Pinellas very fast, due to costs of housing, taxes, insurance, etc., as evidenced by the nursing/teacher shortage.
To combat the dwindling interest, due to misconstrued education, we have tried to come up with new ways to gain exposure.
1) We are fortunate to have a couple of teachers in our club, so we have some opportunity for exposure there.
2) We also set up public library displays a few times a year to allow children and their parents to view the variety of the seas, along with our collectors code of ethics.
3) We have set up new categories for our shell shows to include a "junior" division with corresponding awards and learning activities during the show. After the Feb. 2007 show, a homeschool family spread the word of the club and we had some peripheral interest, but no new members as a result. The homeschool kids actually created a mini-show of their own and will be participating in our show Feb 2008.
4) We are working on our website to include games and links for kids, however this project is a little slow going.
5) Public Awareness: We participated in a family museum day, with hands-on opportunity and last month we exhibited at the first Environmental Awareness Program at a local high school. There we got feed back that the kids consider Environmental Awareness about being "green" and picking up trash. We are definitely going to have to work harder to supplant the notion that picking up dead shells and occasional live specimens is "bad."
6) We've done programs for other organizations such as a garden club, kayak, diving, and canoe groups, A couple of members of the Suncoast Conchologists actually judged a dinner contest for an all female dive club with a marine theme.
7) Kids love to see LIVE things and we had increased attendance for a tour of our meeting place (Science Center), which included a touch tank maintained by the Center personnel.
8) I believe we will have to have more engaging and interactive programs. For example, we could include a presentation prior to a field trip showing what we might find or have a meeting specifically geared to sharing what we found after a field trip.
9) Possibly having separate children's activities while adults view more formal presenations at club meetings, could inspire young ones to learn more. There is no room for children during business meetings, as they get easily bored.
10) Tapping into the college groups who may be studying natural sciences or education, could expand the age bracket, albeit somewhat transient.
11) Maybe appealing to a family through email blasts for field trips/shows or applied activities for the whole family, might be another opportunity to meet people on their new ground.
Finally, we must look at the possibility that it is a natural progression for interest to wane over time. As we classify life by genetics, we tend to take some of the romance and mystery out of collecting. I think one of the things that drew me into shells was my curiousity regarding animal relationships. There are organizations now that are more geared toward the living beings in the water, such as Tampa Bay Watch, that make people feel good about participating in SAVING some form of life, as opposed to "taking" life. For many years amatuers were part of the big picture in identification and protection. Now, the schools and environmental organizations have gotten so technical, that the average person feels they don't know enough to contribute to some positive discovery or end result. The likelihood of finding a NEW species is now rare. Unless one has the funds to rent a submersible, the only new animals we find are usually just invasive species.
All the above notwithstanding, almost every time I go out, I seem to find children interested in what I'm doing and willing to listen to "shell stories." For example, at our club picnic in Ft. Desoto, there were three boys having a blast in the outgoing tide playing with olives! Hopefully, soon I will be able to post videos to our website so you can feel the excitement the young ones express.
Nov 10; Richard Sedlak:
Reporting from the Broward Shell Club I wanted to say that many of you have very eloquently stated many collective facts for the current woes of shell clubs in general....and have collectively offered many solutions as well. This has been a great brainstorming session and I have a couple of other things to add.
With the exception of plant/gardening organizations ALL types of clubs have been having problems recruiting. Antique/special interest auto clubs have been touting "bring a kid to a car show theme for instance. That reflects our main source of difficulty - getting kids to become interest and wean theme away from computers, computer games a such. There was a time in our club when it was not at all uncommon for entire families to join and become active. We do have one "secret weapon" among our ranks in the name of Jonathan Galka. He joined the club at age 4 when is dad who was then our librarian started bringing him to the meetings. He is an exceptional kid, who now at age 10 speaks English, Spanish, Dutch and some Thai....and only refers to the shells in their Latin names. At the monthly raffle table he will choose either a shell....or scientific books! I do believe we can turn him loose on the unsuspecting public as bait to lure more of the younger set in. That said we also gain members from our shell show, but always middle aged or older. Fortunately most become active. It also DOES NOT HELP when you have such great people as Marilyn Northrop and Jim VunKannon who actively participated with exhibits in the shell shows die from totally unnecessary circumstances!! We have increased our field trips even though many are not actually shell-oriented. They area very effective way to keep everyone interactive. We were also very fortunately to gain the members of the now-defunct Greater Miami and Palm Beach County Shell Clubs as well as some from the old Treasure Coast Club (Linda Zylman is actually hosting our Holiday Party!) Another project we are starting is to send invites to other former members of those defunct clubs and inviting them to participate in ours, plus sending notices to past former members to "get back in and enjoy the fun".
Bottom line is as long as we know what the problems are then we can come up with solutions....
Nov 12; Robert Lipe:
My wife Betty and I attended 3 Shell Club meetings in 5 days this week. Clearwater, Sarasota and St. Pete. There seem to be quite a bit of interest in our hobby. The season for the best attendance is just starting. Clearwater had a good crowd, and I gave the program for Sarasota and there were around 43 people there. St. Pete club doubled in attendance from last month. and Wayne Harland gave a great program and we had a mini auction that was very good. We got 3 new members. It almost felt like the good old days. We would like to see more people come out and visit.
Nov 13; Linda Bush:
As you are probably aware, the St. Louis club disbanded last spring - we were all getting older and couldn't attract new, younger members, in spite of various types of publicity.
I am still collecting shells, mainly at COA and through eBay, but with the demise of Shell Club, I have also turned to origami, a hobby that shares its inception date rougly with my shell collecting.
I wish I knew the answer to maintaining a club this far inland, but I am ready to move to Florida to still be able to go to club meetings.