Shells from the world’s seashores

Over the last few decades, Trevor Roberts has transformed his Central Whidbey home into a first-class museum of beautiful and exotic shells he collected from around the world.

Over the last few decades, Trevor Roberts has transformed his Central Whidbey home into a first-class museum of beautiful and exotic shells he collected from around the world.

The sprightly, 95-year-old man acts the part of the curator and obviously relishes showing guests the beauty and uniqueness of the seashells. He pulls open a drawer of one of the wooden cases he had made specially for his collection. He picks out an unusual-looking shell that seem to be made of bits of other shells.

“It’s called a carrier shell. They collect small shells, rocks and other things and glue them to their backs,” he said. “It’s remarkable.”

Roberts himself is no less remarkable; the nonagenarian has made an indelible mark on Whidbey Island during his many years. His neighbors in the Shangri-La Shores community appreciate the singular and important role he has played on Central Whidbey. They named a new dock, which is adjacent to his waterside home, in his honor. It’s the Trevor D. Roberts Pier.

Roberts’ story on Whidbey begins in 1951, when he and his wife Herriette purchased the Whido-Isle Beach Resort on Central Whidbey. The couple moved to the 10-cottage, family resort full time with their sons, Sandy and Ron, a couple of years later.

Running the resort was a lot of hard work, Roberts said, and not very profitable. But the family had a lot of fun and Roberts made a name for himself as a salmon fisherman. His wife became popular sharing his catches with neighbors.

“My wife used to say I would fish 300 days a year,” he said.

Roberts explained that he eventually subdivided the acreage, including a quarter of a mile of shoreline, and sold off most of the resort in lots. The Roberts’ named the new subdivision “Shangri-La Shores.” The story of the transition from a resort to a seaside community is recounted in a little book by Shangri-La residents Art and Betty Paulsen.

The profits allowed the couple to travel all over the world. They went on many globe-trotting trips together.

“We were very, very fortunate,” Roberts said.

Sadly, Herriette Roberts passed away in 1977 from leukemia. Roberts continued to travel after her death, but his trips started to focus on his growing passion for collecting shells. He often went on special group trips that specifically catered to seashell collectors.

A map of the world in Roberts’ home is dotted with dozens upon dozens of stick pins showing where he has visited. His hunt for shells has taken him to more countries than he cares to count. He’s been all over Australia, the islands of the South Pacific, Indonesia, the Philippines, South America, Africa, Sri Lanka, the Mediterranean and on and on.

Roberts said he enjoyed discovering new places.

“It’s fun to meet new people and learn about their habits,” he said. “Most people are very friendly. If you give them the chance and take the time to learn their customs, people are all about the same.”

Roberts said he collected his shells in various ways. He did a lot of snorkeling and beach combing. He and fellow collectors went out on boats and screened material that divers brought up from the bottom of the ocean.

In places like Vietnam, he also explored local markets, where people sold seafood of all sorts. He found some wonderful shells.

After he brought the shells home, Roberts said it took a surprising amount of work to clean them. It takes a lot of elbow grease to remove the periostracum, which is the leathery covering on seashells.

He labels each perfectly-polished shell with its scientific name and other information and then places it within his collection.

It’s easy to see why Roberts is so fascinated by the shells. His collection shows off the amazing variations of nature, from the simple elegance of a pastel-colored scallop to the complex and fragile-looking spikes of the spondylus. They come in an impossible range of colors, hues and patterns.

In recent years, Roberts hasn’t been able to travel because of health concerns, but he’s found another way to continue his hunt for shells. He trades shells with people all over the world through the Internet. Also, he’s an active member of the Pacific Northwest Shell Club, which hosts field trips in the region and other events.

While Roberts has given countless tours of his collection at his home, he hopes that someday his shells might be in a museum where people can actually see them, not hidden away in drawers.

“Not that many people in the world collect shells,” he said, “but I think there’s a lot of interest in them.”