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Tiny sea shells make a big impression

Jack Lightbourn opens the new mini shell exhibition at the BUEI (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Renowned malacologist John “Jack” Lightbourn has officially opened a new exhibition featuring some of the smallest sea shells on the planet.

The Micromollusc Shell Collection can be seen at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute of which Mr Lightbourn, 91, is a life trustee.

The collection of about 700 tiny shells from Mr Lightbourn’s personal collection and that of fellow specialist Arthur Guest, joins the ranks of the rest of Mr Lightbourn’s 1,200 strong collection at BUEI representing “the best quarter” of what he has found over the course of his lifetime.

Mr Lightbourn began scouring the beaches of Bermuda with his grandfather at the age of six spurring a lifelong hobby that has seen him traverse the globe. His collection is acknowledged as one of the largest and finest, rivalling even the Smithsonian’s archives. Mr Lightbourn has become one of the foremost collectors and experts in the field.

“I was never keen to concentrate on the small shells — you don’t see many people looking at them at museums,” he told The Royal Gazette.

“But for me, as long as they have a bit of colour in them, I like them, regardless of what size they are.

“To find them, you get a bunch of sand and when you get home you spread it out. Some of them you can find anywhere in Bermuda. Others, you pick a spot and that is it. We never had any small ones here at BUEI so when they started talking about it, I told them I had a bunch at home and here they are.”

BUEI curated the new exhibit with the assistance of Camara’s Carpentry to showcase the shells in a purpose-built mahogany cabinet, complete with sliding magnifying glasses so that you can clearly view many of the minuscule shells.