The Sanctuary Islands
The Sanctuary Islands
The “Ding” Darling Refuge is one of the crown jewels on the National Wildlife Refuge system, drawing thousands of visitors each year from here and abroad.
Open daily except Fridays, the visitor has a chance to see some of the 238 different bird species, including wood storks, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills and ospreys that make their home on the islands. Alligators, manatees and even a rare American crocodile can also be found here. The refuge offers exhibits and a variety of educational programs through the Visitors Center.
Other nature-oriented sites can be found along Sanibel-Captiva Road: the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) and the Clinic for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW). The SCCF has some 1,100 acres for the permanent protection of wildlife habitat and conducts ongoing educational programs. CROW is a veterinary hospital for injured wildlife that enjoys a national reputation for the remarkable work of its staff. Each year the clinic helps more than 3,400 wild animals, many of them emergency cases.
Sanibel’s Fabulous Beaches
Gentle waves roll in to the sugar-sand beaches from the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, producing some of the finest shelling in the world. Due to the position in which it is situated, the Island ‘catches’ unusual shells brought in by the Gulf Stream from as far away as South America. Thus, it’s easy to develop the “Sanibel Stoop” — so named for the position in which many shell-seekers can be spotted.
The islands are standouts among the world’s shelling destinations, and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum reflects that distinction. It offers top scientific information on mullusks, both living and extinct, in fascinating, creative exhibits that will intrigue the entire family. It also offers a compelling exhibit on the importance of shells to the Calusa culture encountered by Spanish explorers in the 16th Century. Located on Sanibel-Captiva Road, the museum is open every day from 10AM to 5PM.
See all the sights and wildlife inhabitants up close and personal by biking along the 23 miles of shared use paths that the island offers.
If fishing is on your itinerary, you can drop a line from the Sanibel Fishing Pier located “around the corner” from the Lighthouse and make a great catch.
For the more spirited adventurers, Tarpon Bay Explorers, Sanibel Marina, and McCarthy’s Marina on Captiva — amongst others — offer canoe and kayak rentals so you can enjoy a paddle around or through Buck Key or one of the other protected waterways on the Pine Island Sound side of the island. They also offer private charters and guided nature and fishing tours.
Captiva Cruises offers group tours for shelling and dolphin watching, as well as trips to intriguing nearby islands like Cabbage Key, Cayo Costa or Useppa.