by Jim DeLa
An impressive collection of seashells acquired over decades from the western Pacific has been donated to New College’s Pritzker Marine Research Center.
David Chandler, a friend of New College, said he and his wife began collecting the shells in the late 1970s when they were serving in the U.S. Army, stationed on Okinawa. “By donating it to the College, I felt that was the best way to preserve the collection for years to come,” he said. “Thank you for accepting this donation, it has made me very happy.”
Most of the shells were collected live, by hand, by the Chandlers on the reefs of Okinawa; some are from Sri Lanka and they bartered for some from the Philippines.
While on Okinawa, “We would watch the tide tables, and when we spotted a super low tide, that also coincided with a full moon, we’d spend the entire night walking the reefs,” Chandler said.
Collecting was sometimes exciting, he recalled. “The area had a lot of sea snakes, and they were always attracted to our lights when snorkeling at night.” The best way to get away from them, he said, was to swim behind their snorkeling partner, and “shut the light off and swim away. Some nights it seemed we traded snakes all night long.”
Chandler said one of the more exciting finds was a Triton’s Trumpet he stumbled upon one night. Later he said he learned that they are key to controlling a particular starfish that was destroying the reefs. “In hindsight, the best thing I could have done was to leave it there. That shows you the downside of collecting – sometimes we gather up something that is best left in its natural habitat.”
New College Professor Sandra Gilchrist says the bulk of the nearly 1,000 shells in Chandler’s gift will be available for students and faculty in the center’s teaching collection. Gilchrist and her staff are now taking measurements, as well as cataloging and properly curating the collection, which could take a year or more to complete.
After that, “we’ll choose some for display. It’s a beautiful collection,” Gilchrist said.