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March 9, 2023

Go Bully Raises $300K+

The Go Bully for “Ding” annual fundraiser in support of Refuge recovery and conservation education raised more than $300,000 on March 6 at Broadway Palm theater in Fort Myers. President Teddy Roosevelt reprisor Joe Wiegand charmed and entertained guests as they bid for four live auction items. Congratulations and thanks to the winners.

A specially created, emotionally charged post-hurricane video inspired the sold out crowd to donate to the “Ding” Is Home Fund.

View an album of event photos.

Ding is Home Video

Call of the Wild Sponsors: Gretchen Banks, Jim & Liz Birmingham, The Bluedorn Family, Jim & Patty Sprankle

Champion Sponsors: Wayne & Linda Boyd, Bill & Laurie Harkey, Jo Smith, In Memory of Boomer Duvin

Guardian Sponsors: Milestone Auctions, Willam & Barbara Millar, Bill & Heather O'Keefe, Doug & Sherry Gentry, Susan & Bob Thoresen

Protector Sponsors: Mike & Terry Baldwin, Tiffani Kaliko & John Silvia, Kay & John Morse

Defender Sponsors: A Friend of the Refuge, HighTower Advisors Fort Myers, Chip & Nancy Roach, Hank & Linda Spire, The Gresham Family, Bob & Kathy Wiesemann, Sanibel Captiva Islander, Paul Harmon, Laura & Shawn Shaffer, By Rachel Pierce

TODAY: Important Community Conversation

As a result of the destruction and challenges Hurricane Ian has introduced to the Sanibel-Captiva community, residents and businesses face questions regarding recovery and where the islands go from here in terms of resilient rebuilding.


The newly formed SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future, together with the city of Sanibel, SCCF, Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, DDWS, and other island organizations, hopes to address concerns in a panel discussion today, March 9, from 6 to 9 p.m. at BIG ARTS on Sanibel. It is open to the public free of charge and will focus on sharing community stories and collecting feedback to guide a citizen-led planning effort focused on building greater resiliency for the future. The meeting also will be live-streamed from the city of Sanibel’s Facebook page. Panel residents include Jerry Muench, Sharon Michie, Trasi Sharp, and Dick Bourdow.


Some questions the panel will address include: Will we rebuild in a way that makes us more resilient to future events? What were the successes in our community response, and how can we be better prepared? How can we recover from the loss of community members who choose to move after this storm? How will our businesses and nonprofits recover and flourish again? How can we continue to collaborate and support one another?

Photo caption: Sanibel's first mayor, Porter Goss, will be the keynote speaker.

Hurricane Update

We will consistently update our Resource Page and include a hurricane update each week in our "Ding" on the Wing. Please access those sites doing a better job with on-the-ground updates, such as the City of Sanibel. Please call us with any Refuge questions at 239-292-0566.  

For residents and businesses affected by Hurricane Ian, here is a printable pdf of resources. We are trying to keep it updated and hoping it helps. 

Here are a few new links: 

  • Bleu Rendezvous French Bistro is now open on Sanibel for lunch and dinner in a new location at 751 Tarpon Bay Road, behind Tower Gallery
  • Starbucks has reopened at Chadwick's Square on Captiva. 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.
  • Native Plant Walks Resume at Sanibel City Hall: The next tour is Thursday, March 9, at 9 a.m.
  • Lee county released a video highlighting total costs of hurricane damage to the county.
  • Federal Economic Recovery and Resilience Workshop: SWFL Regional Planning Council meets Tuesday, March 14, at the Heights Foundation.
  • Wink News: "Sanibel shops damaged by Hurricane Ian open at Bell Tower" article.
  • Florida Weekly: "Ground broken for Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir" article.
  • "Pollution from sugar farming burns area residents" article.
  • NBC2 News: "Tracking red tide along the beaches of Southwest Florida" article.
  • ABC7 News: "UPC Insurance cancels thousands of homeowner’s policies in Lee County" article.
  • News-Press: "Red tide: Fort Myers Beach removes 10 tons of dead fish from beaches; 3 tons to go" article.
  • Naples Florida Weekly: "Senators back mangrove, reef projects" article.
  • NOAA: "With 'Mission: Iconic Reefs,' NOAA aims to restore Florida Keys with climate-resilient corals" article.
  • "How safe is it to eat seafood during red tide in Southwest Florida? What to know" article.
  • News-Press: "Kimberly's Reef coming together as FGCU creates underwater field laboratory" article.
  • "How much money will it cost for Lee County to recover from Hurricane Ian?" article.
  • "To manage land development, Lee, Collier must handle water, politics" article.
  • "Sanibel Fire Station 172 opens temporary location"

Outreach This Week

Educators from “Ding” Darling teamed up with the University of Florida Institute of Agricultural and Sciences (IFAS) to teach students at Tice Elementary in Fort Myers about good nutrition through gardening. An extension of the Pocket Refuge program, it targets a local “food desert” school, defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a community without enough food to sustain its population. Students also learn gardening skills and the value of being outdoors.  

View a VIDEO of the garden planting by Ranger Toni.

Remember, profits from all Nature Store sales go directly to the Refuge for educational programs, wildlife research, and overall conservation efforts.

Solar Co-op Meetings

DDWS is partnering with Solar United Neighbors (SUN), a

 non-profit co-op whose purpose is to provide residents and businesses in Lee and Collier counties with collective buying power to affordably convert to solar energy.


The co-op has scheduled two in-person meetings in Fort Myers and on Sanibel. Attend either of the FREE events by clicking below to pre-register. Times for the meetings are 6 to 7:30 p.m.

IN-PERSON Informational MEETING:

Tuesday, March 14 at All Faiths Unitarian Congregation, 2756 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers


IN-PERSON Informational MEETING:

Wednesday, March 15 at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, 3075 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel Island

Spotlight: Friends Rebuilding

As a regular feature, “Ding” on the Wing spotlights a business on the islands that has strongly supported the Refuge in the past and now needs us all to rally behind it as it navigates the road to recovery.


Congress Jewelers generously donated work to turn a carved wooden Jim Sprankle Feather Pendant into a bedazzled work, complete with a 14k gold bale and diamonds, to auction at our Go Bully for “Ding” fundraiser this week. Owners Scot and Melissa Congress have done other such Feather Pendant embellishments in the past, plus have sponsored fundraisers and donated auction items to support DDWS and the Refuge.


After 40 years in business at Periwinkle Place on Sanibel Island, Congress Jewelers was forced to move its store due to severe hurricane damage. It reopened on December 2, leading a movement of now six Sanibel-based businesses to Bell Tower to serve customers during the rebuilding of their island venues.


“We are planning to open by Thanksgiving with a brand-new store in the same [former] location at Periwinkle Place, being designed now,” said Scot, president of the family business. 


Congress’ philanthropy through the years has extended to many other nonprofits including FISH of San Cap, the Sanibel-Captiva Recovery Fund, the Rotary, BIG ARTS, and the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, to name a few.


“All of these charities are in our hearts,” said Scot. “We have participated for decades.”

 Photo credit: Sanibel & Captiva Island Chamber of Commerce

Refuge Cleanup Crews

Most college students want to party on their spring break, but these groups wanted to give back. Fourteen seniors from Penn State University reached out to the Refuge to coordinate a half-day kayak cleanup of Tarpon Bay. Led by Ranger Jess Barry, the students handpicked debris along one entire side of the bay. They pulled in old kayak paddles, various plastic items, rope, monofilament, refuge signs, Styrofoam, and other hurricane debris from deep in the mangroves during a high tide. Four Northern Michigan University students helped Ranger Jess organize the Visitor & Education Center front desk areas in anticipation of the center reopening.

Penn University students

Northern Michigan University students

WoW Update: Gracias, Diana

This week we salute Diana Iglesias, a bilingual intern for WoW (Wildlife on Wheels), who recently returned to the “Ding” Education Team. WoW currently is spending time at Oak Hammock Middle School in Tice, where many of the students do not speak English.


“It was amazing to listen and see the interaction of Diana with these Spanish-speaking students,” said Urban Education Leader Melissa Maher. “These students were smiling and having fun with their learning. Most of them did not understand English well.”


DDWS supports Diana’s position with the Refuge. We recently were able to rehire her after Hurricane Ian had cut staffing and destroyed intern housing. DDWS has found temporary intern housing, but needs your help in funding current and future accommodations for interns and other support staff. Donate today to support the upkeep and programming for WoW efforts. Thank you for helping us spread the conservation message to those with limited opportunities, so they can experience and appreciate wildlife and its habitat.

The LMP Fund for Girls is named for Dr. Louise Merrimon Perry, who donated land to the Refuge.

Honorarium for International Women’s Day

Virtually celebrate this week’s International Women’s Day by recognizing a special girl or woman in your life with a contribution to “Ding” Darling’s LMP Fund for Girls. Simply visit our donation page and enter the name of the woman to be honored, then enter “LMP Fund for Girls” in the Comments field.

March 25: Sounds of the Sand to Support Refuge Recovery

To support Refuge recovery efforts and conservation outreach after Hurricane Ian destroyed much of its habitat and infrastructure, DDWS, in partnership with Bell Tower and Two Lane Lager, presents Sounds of the Sand, Saturday, March 25.


The free event will take place from 1 to 7 p.m. at the Bell Tower shopping plaza in Fort Myers, featuring popular Sanibel musician Danny Morgan and other local bands and entertainers.


The three-pronged partnership grew from a past relationship between Bell Tower and Two Lane Lager READ MORE


To become an event sponsor, please contact organizer April Boehnen 440-452-9083

Refuge Programming & Events


The Visitor & Education Center and Wildlife Drive remain closed due to hurricane damage until further notice. Consequently, many programs and events have been canceled. Read DOTW for news of activities still being planned.


  • “Ding” Darling participates with fellow complex refuge Florida Panther NWR for Save the Panther Day on March 18 at refuge headquarters. Sign up on Eventbrite for guided hikes, swamp walks, swamp buggy tours, and presentations on bears, panthers, and camera trapping. 

  • The Nature Store pops up at the Rachel Pierce Art Gallery marketplace from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. most Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Upcoming dates: Upcoming dates: February 23, 24, 25, and 26

  • Refuge Cleanup with a Ranger takes place every Thursday in March at 9 a.m. Participation is limited; preregister on Eventbrite.

Photo caption: Archery skills lessons will be a part of March’s Sounds from the Sand and April’s “Ding” Darling Day events.

Read Across America

To celebrate Read Across America last week, Refuge Rangers Toni Westland (left) and Jessica Barry (right) read to students at The Sanibel School, which recently celebrated its reopening after a post-hurricane comeback. Toni taught students K through 2 about the importance of birds, while Ranger Jess read to older grades about sea turtles.  

Show Us Your 'Ding' Merch

For a chance to be highlighted in "Ding" on the Wing, send in a photo of yourself wearing your "Ding" merch to April Boehnen

Monica Vaccaro, Sandusky, Ohio

Feel-Good Finds

If you have a photo, poem, video, or other feel-good find and you'd like the chance to be highlighted in our "Ding" on the Wing, please email it to April Boehnen.

“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”

-Terry Tempest Williams, naturalist and “citizen writer"

Photo by Kyle Sweet

*Taken before hurricane Ian

Wellness Tip

As part of our Nature Wellness Program for 2023, watch here for tips and advice on how to center your mind and improve your wellbeing both outdoors and indoors.


Make Gratitude the Attitude


For many of us, showing up for our friends, family, partner, place of work, and/or community feels imperative. We want to invest and pour ourselves into things we love. The question arises, however: How can we keep our cup sufficiently full so we have enough for ourselves and others?


One simple approach is to focus less on the things you cannot control and, instead, make gratitude a priority. In moments when you feel impatience, overwhelmed, frustrated, whatever it may be, make a mental effort to let gratitude take the reins.


Sitting in traffic? Take a moment to appreciate the blue sky, the breeze, or the simple fact that you have a running vehicle. Woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Make time to feel truly grateful for that comforting first sip of tea or coffee.


Gratitude is the free, bottomless pitcher that we can all pour from. When we make an effort to keep our cups full, we can pour our hearts into the things we love without feeling empty.

These are just snapshots of some of the things taking place at your Wildlife Refuge. Please check our website to learn more! Thank you for caring!


Birgit Miller, Executive Director

"Ding" On The Wing composed by Chelle Koster Walton. Designed by Ali Reece.

Darling Dose of "Ding"

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