Sanibel Island is an island located on the Gulf coast of Florida, just offshore of Fort Myers, Florida. Located within Lee County, Florida, Sanibel is a barrier island — a collection of sand on the leeward side of the Gulf Stream from the more solid coral-rock of Pine Island. The island's curved shrimp-like shape forms Tarpon Bay on the north side of the island.
It is linked to the mainland by a toll causeway, which runs across two small islets and the Intracoastal Waterway. A short bridge links Sanibel Island to Captiva Island over Redfish Pass, created when the storm surge from a hurricane in 1922 divided the islands. The beaches are excellent on both islands, and are renowned for their excellent variety of seashells. Sanibel Island is home to a good variety of birds, including the magnificent frigatebird.
Birds can be seen on the beaches, the causeway islands and the reserves, including J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Common sights include pelicans, herons, egrets, and anhingas, as well as the more common shorebirds like terns, sandpipers, and of course seagulls. The rare American crocodile has been been seen at the refuge as well.
Plants on the island include the native sea grape, sea oats, mangroves, several types of palm tree, and the non-native Australian pine.
Seashells often found include coquinas, scallops, and other clams, and sometimes whelks, sand dollars, and other deeper-water mollusks, both univalve and bivalve.
The city of Sanibel incorporates the entire island, with most of the town proper at the east end of the island. The community of Santiva is at the northwestern end of the island. After the causeway was built to replace the ferry in the 1960s, the residents fought back against overdevelopment by incorporating the island as a city in the 1970s.
Southwest Florida rarely takes a direct strike by hurricanes, but every 20 or so it takes a significant hit, and about every 40 years a major one. Most of these have had an impact on Sanibel. A hurricane's storm surge in 1922 severed the north end of the island, creating Captiva, which was in turn severed by another hurricane.
In 2004, Sanibel Island was hit hard on August 13 by Hurricane Charley, a category four hurricane and the strongest to hit southwest Florida since Hurricane Donna in September 1960. Pictures have shown that while buildings and much of the vegetation native to the island survived, the stately but non-native Australian pines suffered serious damage, blocking nearly every road. Wildlife officials were also concerned that nests of birds and sea turtles were destroyed. The Sanibel Lighthouse apparently survived, and the Sanibel Causeway suffered relatively minor damage, save for a toll booth tilted partly over, and erosion of a small seawall.
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