Sanibel Island is situated to the east of Fort Myers on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The entire island is composed of Sanibel City and its highest concentration of people is located on the eastern portion of the island. Sanibel Island covers an area of thirty-three square miles and has a population of approximately sixty-one hundred people. The island is rapidly becoming a major tourist destination, due in part to the new causeway that was constructed in 2007. Half of the island is composed of wildlife sanctuaries and the largest of these is Darling National Wildlife Refuge. In 2004, the island was struck by Hurricane Charley. This caused extensive damage to the island and mandatory evacuation of the residents.
Sanibel Island has a shape that is very similar to a shrimp. Its shape forms Tarpon Bay on the northern edge of its border. The island is connected to the mainland via the Sanibel Causeway. This causeway traverses the Intracoastal Waterway and two islets. This island has immaculate beaches and is well known for the large amount of seashells that can be found there. The island also has a large variety of birds which can be observed from the beaches of the island. Birds located here include Bald Eagles, pelicans, sandpipers, herons and spoonbill. Sanibel Island also has a large amount of endemic plant life which includes palm trees, mangroves, sea oats and sea grape. Australian pine has also been introduced to the island with disastrous results. The Australian pines over take much of the native vegetation and drops needles on the soft ground, which impedes native plant growth. The island enjoys a subtropical climate with winter temperatures hovering around sixty degrees Fahrenheit during the winter and ninety degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. During the peak tourist season of January through April, the island enjoys a temperature of seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit, with nighttime temperatures rarely falling below fifty-five degrees. The area is prone to be hit by hurricanes and cyclones and the hurrican season runs from June through Octobers.
Sanibel Island was originally occupied by a Native American tribe known as the Calusa who occupied the island about twenty-five hundred years ago. This tribe was a dominating force in Southwest Florida and developed an elaborate trade system, as well as a system of waterways. The island was an important settlement for this tribe, up until the Europeans arrived and caused their empire to collapse. Its not exactly known when the first Europeans first visited the island, but it does appear on a variety of Spanish maps under the name Puerto de S. Nivel during the mid eighteenth century. The first permanent settlement on Sanibel Island was established in 1832 by the Florida Peninsular Land Company. This settlement was a failure, however and was abandoned by 1849. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, the island once again became populated and a lighthouse was erected in 1884. Over the course of the next century, the population of the island remained small. Then in 1963, a causeway was built that linked Sanibel and Captiva Islands to the mainland. This resulted in a dramatic increase of the islands population. Soon after, Sanibel City passed several regulations on development. These regulations restrict the height of building to only two stories and no fast food restaurants are allowed on the island (though there is a Dairy Queen on the island that was allowed to remain under a “grandfather clause”). Though the island only contains one fast food restaurant, it does have a number of sit down restaurants available. These include Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market, Mct’s Shrimp House & Tavern, Gramma Dot’s Restaurant, Hungry Heron Eatery , Blue Giraffe Restaurant and Island Cow Eatery. In 2007, the new causeway was built to replace the worn out causeway of 1963. The original bridge was sunk and still remains in the Gulf of Mexico as a manmade reef.
One of the most popular attractions on Sanibel Island is the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. This museum is dedicated to conchology and seashells. It was founded in 1995 to serve as a resource center for seashell entusiasts and scientists. Because of the high quality of the seashells on the island, most of this museum’s collection has been gathered from the beaches of Sanibel. The museum was started by the Bailey brothers, who donated the land upon which it sits. The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum has thirty four exhibits which include Scenic Entrance Murals, Sanibel and Captiva Habitats, Shell Classification Wheel, Early Sanibel Shell Collectors, Kingdom of the Land Shells, Ecphora, Mollusks-Medicine and Man, School Shell Collection Kit, Treasures of the Deep, Sailors” Valentines, Children’s Learning Lab, Shell of the Moment, Shells in Architecture, Cephalopods, Shells in Geography and Worldwide Shells. The museum also takes part in national and internaltion research projects. J. N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge is also popular among tourists. This refuge covers an area of fifty-two hundred acres and was founded in 1976. This refuge is known mainly for its large population of migratory birds. J. N. Darling National Wildlife Refuge is composed of the refuge itself and also the refuges of Caloosahatchee Refuge, Island Bay, Matlacha and Pine Island National Wildlife Refuge. During 2004, the refuge was struck by Hurrican Charley, an event which caused dramatic changes to the topography and ecology of the park.
Other popular attractions on Sanibel Island include Sanibel Thriller, Tarpon Bay Explorers, Sanibel Historical Museum and Village, Bowman’s Beach, Billy’s Bicycle Rentals, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, Sanibel and Captiva Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, Sanibel Island Lighthouse, Finnimore’s Cycle Shop, Great Calusa Blueway, Barrier Island Group for the Arts, Periwinkle Way, Shell Fountain Beach, Schoolhouse Gallery, Schoolhouse Theater, Islander Trading Post Antiques and Outfitters To The Outsiders. Hotels on Sanibel Island include Shalimar Resort, Sanibel Inn, Kona Kai Motel, Sundial Beach & Golf Resort, Blue Dolphin Beach Cottages, West Wind Inn, Sanibel Island Hotel, South Seas Island Resort, Casa Ybel Resort Spa and Island Inn.