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Wildlife Thrives on Florida's Sanibel Island

Southwest Florida boasts more than one million acres of nature sanctuaries including Sanibel Island's J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Here on Florida's Gulf Coast, visitors will find unspoiled wetlands and experience beauty in its natural state, as well as an abundance of wildlife in their native setting.

The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, named for 1920's Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and pioneer environmentalist Jay Norwood Darling, is a 6,000-acre tract on the northeast side of Sanibel Island. The refuge features footpaths, winding canoe/kayak trails and a four-mile scenic drive, all of which are lush with seagrape, wax and salt myrtles, red mangrove, cabbage or sabal palms and other native plant varieties.

A booklet, available from the refuge's interpretative center, highlights points of interest and observation towers, where naturalists will get their best view of a variety of flora and fauna including raccoons, otters and alligators.

Visitors are reminded not to feed alligators as it is illegal and to keep a safe distance. According to the National Park Service, never get closer than 15 feet and further if they display aggressive behavior. Take care especially with children and small pets. While they may appear to be quietly resting in the water, they have the ability to run up to 30 miles per hour for short periods of time.

Birdwatehing is a popular pastime, especially at the refuge. Roseate spoonbills, reddish egrets, snowy egrets and a variety of other heron and egret species are found in abundance throughout the mangrove environment. Low tide, when birds feed, is an ideal time to visit.

There is a nominal entrance fee for cars, bicycles and walkers. The drive is closed on Fridays, however the Education/Visitor Center is open daily. Canoe and kayak, fishing boat, and bicycle rentals are available.

Visitor Center
1 Wildlife Drive (off Sanibel-Captiva Road)
Sanibel Island, FL 33957
(239) 472-1100
12800 University Drive, Suite 550
Fort Myers, FL 33907
(239) 338-3500
(800) 237-6444

Photos Courtesy: VISIT FLORIDA - Bird Watching; VISIT FLORIDA - Alligator