Sanibel Island Makes a Comeback

The beaches are back in business.

sanibel island
Barrier island beauty.The Palmer

A lethal algae bloom walloped Florida’s Sanibel Island this past summer, with ­marine-animal deaths and a stench on the beaches so severe that an opinion writer called the scene a “disaster” in The New York Times. Environmentalists fretted, tourists fled, and fishing guides with Captains for Clean Water called on the U.S. Congress to act.

“This summer we got killed,” says Myton Ireland, owner of Sanibel Marina, who has lived on the island for 50 years.

The good news, he said in early December, is that the waters had mostly cleared up — because they always do. As bad as last summer was, he’d seen worse, and Sanibel more than survived that too.

“In 1969, it was so severe that when you stood on the beach in Sanibel, you could look to the beach in Naples and see no water; it was all dead fish,” he says. “Last year was not as bad as in the 1960s, but it was worse than in other years. A hurricane came by, and it did help. We knew it would stir the water up, and now the cold water will help. We are optimistic.”

His marina, which he’s owned for 35 years, sells Back Cove and Bertram boats, and accepts transient cruisers and sport-fishermen as big as 85 feet length overall. Business is still good, he says, and anyone interested in cruising to Sanibel late this winter or into spring just might feel lucky. Hotels were more open than usual going into the winter season because media coverage of the summer’s red tide scared tourists away. Marinas should have openings this spring too, even for last-minute slips.

“I’m hoping the worst is over,” he says, knowing that he and Sanibel’s beautiful boating areas have survived worse.

sanibel island
It costs just a single dollar for a pedestrian or cyclist to walk or ride along the Indigo Trail and Bailey Tract at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Hours are sunrise to sunset year-round.Draxus

About Sanibel Island

More than half of Sanibel ­Island is wildlife refuge.

The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge alone is home to more than 245 species of birds. The "big five" that kayakers hope to spot are the American white pelican, mangrove cuckoo, reddish egret, roseate spoonbill and yellow-crowned night ­heron.

Sales of plastic straws were banned this past autumn, in keeping with the island's efforts to preserve the ecosystem.

Seashells and sand dollars tend to wash up on the beaches. A junonia is the most sought-after shell, at 4 to 6 inches long with brown dots.

Bicycles are welcome in the city of Sanibel, which this past December became one of only two Florida communities to earn a Gold Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the League of American Bicyclists.