DOTW green header.png

May 18, 2023

11th Annual Tarpon Tourney

The 11th annual “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tourney kicks off today, May 18, with the Captain’s Meeting, in preparation for the official tournament tomorrow, May 19. The tournament pays 100% of entry fees out in cash awards. This year, the purse of $55,665 goes to the top five winning teams. Special prizes will also be presented to the Top Female Angler; Top Senior Angler (age 60+) and to the top Amateur Team.

Good luck, anglers! Look here next week for the winning teams and competition tidbits. Follow our facebook page with photos and updates.

With 100% of the entry fees going back to the anglers, it is the sponsors and donors which raise money for the conservation work at the Refuge. More than $1 million has been raised through this tournament for conservation efforts since it began 10 years ago. Please thank our sponsors below. This tournament would not be what it is today without them.

Title Sponsor: Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille

Champion Sponsors: Gretchen Banks, Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, The Szymanczyk Family

Premiere Sponsor: Bass Pro ShopsThe Historic Bait Box

Presenting Sponsors: Two Lane Lager, Captiva Divas, David & Judy Baum, Bill & Laurie Harkey

Platinum Sponsors: Captain Shawn Kelly Fishing ChartersSanibel Captiva Community BankCustom Tees Now, Organized Chaos, Whitney's Bait & TackleDiversified Yacht ServicesHighTower Advisors - Fort Myers

Gold Sponsors: Anisa JewelryMabry BrothersBay MarineOn IslandCaptain Matt Mitchell's Fishing ChartersJensen's Marina & CottagesTrophy Case of Fort MyersYETIRS Walsh Landscaping & DesignFort Myers MarineMilestone AuctionsCongress Jewelers

Silver Sponsors: Peter & Barb RogersCaptiva CruisesLaw Office of Janet M. Strickland

New Marketing Manager

We recently welcomed Gretchen Engelbrecht as Community and Outreach Marketing Manager, a position vacated in January 2022. She will oversee the coordination and implementation of programs and outreach activities managed by DDWS.


Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Gretchen received her bachelor of fine arts with an emphasis in art and technology from The Ohio State University in Columbus. She most recently served as the marketing and community coordinator for the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Services at Ohio State. She brings with her a background in video, print, website, and digital and social media marketing, along with experience in special events, fundraising, public speaking, and overall nonprofit development.


“Her references describe her as well-rounded, creative, entrepreneurial, and a real asset to any team,” said DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller Gresham. “We’ve already seen those qualities and a welcomed enthusiasm for the Refuge and our work support its conservation mission.”


“Working closely with nature, conservation, and creative projects is something I am excited to be a part of,” said Gretchen. “Both Sanibel and ‘Ding’ Darling feel to be a warm, inviting community.”

We Heart Our Teachers

Last week, “Ding” Darling showed love to all our talented, devoted staff on the WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) team. In addition to leader Melissa Maher, Urban Ranger Yvette Carrasco, WoW Intern Diana Iglesia, and the “Ding” Visitor Service rangers, we have these three indispensable volunteer teachers to thank. Retired teachers Kathy Sanders, Diana Wideman, and Cheryl Tice have made it possible for WoW to reach more than 7,700 Lee County School District students this year, despite the hurricane and its impact on Refuge staffing. In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Week last week, “Ding” Darling recognized their important contributions to our missions of conservation education and community connection. A huge THANK YOU!

Lecture Series Returns to Refuge in January

After two years of social distancing and one year of cancelation due to Hurricane Ian, the well-loved “Ding” Darling Lecture Series returns to where it belongs – the Refuge Visitor & Education Center. The schedule of lecturers is under design right now, slated to begin in January 2024.


Expect impressive, popular speakers including world-famous nature photographer Clyde Butcher and Richard Crossley, author and artist of his eponymous bird ID guides, along with other exciting experts in the fields of nature and art.

Kayak at Tarpon Bay Explorers!

When it comes down to the essential reason why people kayak it all comes back to this one reason. Paddling a kayak is fun! It is also an amazing way to experience nature up close. Within Tarpon Bay, you will be able to travel to and see sights only accessible to a very small percentage of people. Call now to make your reservations or visit Tarpon Bay Explorers, located at 900 Tarpon Bay Road where you learn more about their tours and explore their gift shop.

Opean 8am-5pm Mon Wed Fri Sat- rentals, gift shop, launching

Kayak Trail Tour Wednesdays 10am

Tram Tours Thursdays 10am and 1pm

Summer Wildlife Drive Admission in Effect

May through September, your admission pass to Wildlife Drive turns into a three-day ticket. Keep your pass to re-enter free for the following two consecutive days. NOTE: Wildlife Drive closes on Fridays, so your pass is good for the next Saturday if your visit falls on a weekend.

May 22: Resiliency Group Meeting

SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future holds its third community conversation on Monday, May 22, at BIG ARTS on Sanibel Island, starting at 6. p.m. This meeting will focus on lessons learned about emergency response post-hurricane. The Sanibel City Manager will moderate, and the panel will consist of a variety of Sanibel, Captiva, and Lee County professionals who were on the ground managing the post-hurricane response.

WoW Update: What a School Year!

As WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) finished its school-year visits last week, we look back on an incredible season. We’re not just saying that. The numbers prove it: WoW educated at 11 Title 1 Schools from November 1 through May 15, reaching 7,625 students despite Hurricane Ian’s intrusion. In addition, WoW worked with all grade levels from kindergarten to high school teaching to the required Florida curriculum.


“Every year, we teach more and learn more,” said Urban Education Leader Melissa Maher. “Hurricane Ian only made us stronger. DingStrong! We topped the 2022-2023 school-year numbers by 565 students!”


With the school year ending, the WoW educators switch gears to summer camp. The theme of the camps is Micro Mania, which entails the use of microscopes and microplastics activities.

Already five commitments are on the docket:


June 12-16: Eden Park Elementary, Immokalee

June 19-23: Harlem Heights Community Charter School, Fort Myers

June 26-30: Harns Marsh Elementary, Lehigh Acres

July 3-7: Sunshine Elementary, Lehigh Acres

July 21-28 (tentative): PACE Center for Girls, Fort Myers


Donate today to support the upkeep and staffing for WoW. Thank you for helping us spread the conservation message to those with limited opportunities, so they, too, can experience and appreciate wildlife and its habitat.

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

Refuge Programming & Events

  • SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future holds its next community meeting on May 22 at BIG ARTS on Sanibel Island.

  • Through May, a mini-exhibition of Artist in Residence Jacqui Roch’s Refuge-inspired work runs in the Visitor & Education Center Auditorium.

  • Photo-artist Niki Butcher mounts an exhibition of her work in the Visitor & Education Center in January and February 2024, dates TBA.

Hurricane (and Related Environmental) Update

We consistently update our Resource Page and include a hurricane update each week in our "Ding" on the Wing. Call us with any Refuge questions at 239-292-0566. Here is a printable pdf of resources. We are trying to keep it updated and hoping it helps. 

Here are a few NEW links: 

  • SBA Disaster Loan Deadline Approaching
  • Project HOPE Outreach | Sanibel Public Library May 22
  • Sanibel Island Florida post office reopens after repairs made from Ian
  • DDWS announces winners of annual high school photo contest
  • Exhibition on display at BIG ARTS
  • Playground reopens with help from volunteers
  • City of Sanibel shares updates on Causeway restoration
  • Lee County seeks input on $1.1B federal aid for Ian recovery
  • Thousands of beds needed for children in Lee County after Ian
  • Dangerous, invasive Giant Africa Land Snails found in Fort Myers, again
  • Climate policy can help Florida's insurance policies
  • Lee County's March bed tax revenue plunges almost 50%
  • Newly renovated Fort Myers mental health facility reopening after hurricane damage
  • Article on Sanibel Town Center
  • initiates pilot program for right-of-way plantings
  • Here are the lessons from Hurricane Andrew and now, Ian
  • AI being used to better predict harmful algal blooms in Southwest Florida
  • Post Hurricane Ian action report to review county's actions
  • Fort Myers Beach Art Association to rebuild after Hurricane Ian
  • SalusCare reopens Crisis Stabilization Unit in Fort Myers
  • Hurricanes of Data: The Tiny Craft Mapping Superstorms at Sea
  • More than 11,000 acres acquired by the Everglades in land deal
  • Big Cypress Sandy Wildfire causes evacuations in Ochopee
  • 500,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled from Clearwater treatment plant
  • Organizations call for veto of 'radioactive roads' bill
  • New law prepares Floridians for rising sea levels
  • Sick panthers causing concern even as car strike deaths decline
  • As Ocean Oxygen Levels Dip, Fish Face an Uncertain Future
  • Lady Chadwick's back on the water after Hurricane Ian
  • What threats do seabirds face?
  • Climate change forces rethinking of huge Everglades restoration plan
  • Resilient Lee Survey helps decide where Hurricane Ian Relief funds are needed
  • Scientists to deploy hemp crops in ways to combat climate change and support underserved farmers
  • What Is Managed Retreat? A Controversial Climate Adaptation Scientists Say Is Inevitable
  • Research seeks to transform HAB management
  • Uncovering the impact of Hurricane Ian on Southwest Florida's oysters 
  • Monitoring freshwater inflows to Caloosahatchee estuary
  • UCF is designing self-repairing oyster reefs to protect Florida's coastlines

Wellness Week Highlights

A full schedule of healing-through-nature activities brought a flush of wellness to the Refuge and participants with its second annual Wellness Week [], May 3-9, in coordination with National Mental Health Month.


Visit our Wellness Week Album to view memories of our successful event.

Wildlife Sightings & Tides

Next time you visit the Refuge, be sure to take time to pause and observe your surroundings. You never know what animal is perched quietly in the mangroves. Tricolored Herons tend to feed alone, but often stay at the edge of groups of other wading birds, waiting for them to stir up fish and other aquatic prey.

Photo by Marjorie Ellison

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 about the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.


Birgit Miller, Executive Director

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

Darling Dose of "Ding"

Support the Refuge

Donate to support wildlife conservation now!
Visit our Website
Facebook  Instagram
LinkedIn Share This Email