Preserving The Island Ecosystem of Sanibel, Florida


By Connor McIlveen

Green heron nesting at J.N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge

Located 45 minutes outside of Fort Myers, Sanibel Island is renowned for its shelly beaches and gorgeous subtropical ecosystem. Sanibel residents are so passionate about the island that over 60 percent of it is made up of wildlife preserves, including the renowned J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

At the behest of Jay Norwood Darling, the refuge was created through an executive order by President Truman, conserving the 6,400 acres of mangrove forests and marshes that provide a habitat to over 300 animal species. The land, which would have been sold to developers had it not been for the interference of its namesake, now protects endangered and threatened species, with 2,800 acres of the refuge designated by Congress as a Federal Wilderness Area.

A bald eagle undergoing an operation at CROW

Offering kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, bird watching, fishing and trails that you can explore on foot, by bike or in a car, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is eager to share the land they protect. The trails, $1 per hiker or $5 per vehicle, have limited hours depending on the season, so make sure to call ahead. The Education Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in April, and until 4 p.m. from May to December.

Across the street from the preserve at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or CROW, helps rehabilitate thousands of animals a year while also educating students through internship programs, and educating the public with a variety of events.

Plan in advance to attend Lunch and Learn, a meal and discussion with CROW’s Hospital Director, Dr. Heather Barron, where guests have the opportunity to learn about how animal, environmental and human health are one in the same. Additionally, the ongoing Speaker Series offers visitors the chance to hear expert-led lectures about various creatures in the ecosystem, with topics including the “Snakes of Sanibel & Captiva.”

Pelicans are among the 300 species that call Sanibel home

The Clinic offers volunteer positions and accepts donations. More information can be found at, including an event schedule.

For more information on the refuge visit here, and make sure to stop by, where you can donate to the “Ding” Darling Society, responsible for aiding the refuge with land acquisitions and funding; fighting for clean water for all Floridians and assisting with post-hurricane efforts.

Fit Sanibel into your Fort Myers / Punta Gorda getaway today – book now at!


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