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September 29, 2022

Hurricane Recovery Advisement

When forecasters first spotted hurricane Ian, predicting that it would likely hit the west coast of Florida, the refuge, the entire islands of Sanibel and Captiva, Lee County and the entire state, went on high alert.


The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, along with the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society, closed on Monday September 26 at 2:00 pm. The refuge team moved trucks and equipment off the island by mid-Tuesday. With phone trees and emergency contacts in place, staff and interns evacuated to safer locations, out of state or into inland hotel rooms near the airport or private residences of staff.  All staff have been accounted for and are safe.  

If you are out of the area and have a loved one you haven't heard from, you can ask for a well-being check by calling the Lee County Sherriff's non-emergency number at 239.477.1000.  

“Ding” Darling is a family and everyone’s safety is important to us. From our small barrier islands to the entire state of Florida and other states which Hurricane Ian is anticipated to hit, we feel for everyone having to deal with this storm and the vengeance of mother nature.  

Hurricane Ian made landfall September 28 at approximately 12:30 p.m. leaving behind a trail of destruction.  

While the staff of the Refuge and DDWS evacuated, there were a number of people they know who chose to stay behind.  Names of people we were aware of having stayed were given to the city emergency response team to make the search and rescue more efficient.  See the link to Lee County Sherrif's office. 

Rescue operations have begun and it is our hope everyone is alive and safe.

See LINK to Lee County Sheriffs feed from earlier today.  

Links to help the residents and businesses on the islands

The following are links to organizations that will help people and businesses living and working on the islands.  Please DO NOT send mail to FISH of Sanibel Captiva as any mail service is not working. Make gifts online.  If your gift is larger than $10k, please send in smaller increments as some banks and credit cards may have a limit.  

photo courtesy of Fox 4 news

Sanibel Causeway Collapse

We have all seen the news accounts which are horrific. There is little known and the next 48 hours will be key to getting a better idea of the extent of damage and ability to get onto the island. 

The following is a partial message from John Lai of the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce before knowledge of the collapse of the causeway bridge and roads. His message still remains accurate. 

Dear Members,

I sincerely hope that you and your loved ones are safe after what can only be classified as a catastrophic day. Absolutely no words could adequately describe the range of emotions that I’m sure we have all experienced in the past 72 hours. 

While we are all undoubtedly anxious to get back to our beloved islands and begin the rebuilding process, I have been in communication with both Mayor Smith and City Manager Souza and as you can expect the re-entry process to our islands will need to be methodical and executed with care after the extreme flooding and storm surge. Items of top priority prior to re-entry will be causeway inspections, the safety of all roadways, wellness checks on residents who chose to stay, and search and rescue of any unaccounted residents. The severe flooding will make this process more challenging than any event that we have encountered in the past.

We ask that you are patient with this process and understand the need to put human health and safety first.

Status of J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge Unknown at this time

Refuge Project Leader Kevin Godsea is in direct communication with the City, state and Lee County to learn when emergency FWS personnel will be allowed back onto the island to assess the damage.  

While all precautions were taken, we anticipate significant damage.  At this point there is no report to give. 

Once the assessment is made, the Refuge and its team of staff and volunteers will facilitate emergency structure and habitat clean-up. 

This will be a long and arduous process for the Refuge, the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, all of Lee County and beyond.  Thank you for caring. 

What will happen to wildlife in a hurricane?

Many people have expressed concern for the wildlife as well as the people of the islands. Creatures take shelter where they can during a major storm such as this.  Humans can escape the path of a hurricane — and some animals can sense a storm coming and flee — but there are many species of wildlife unable to escape storms like Hurricane Ian.

Some ocean-dwelling birds will keep flying into the eye of a storm while a hurricane is at sea, staying until the storm passes.


Some research suggests birds may be able to sense barometric pressure and other changes in the environment, which encourages them to escape harm's way,

Animals can become trapped in high water and flooding and will succumb to drowning, but many will be able to find a spot and survive long enough until the water begins to recede.  

Additional research suggests that water mammals, such as Dolphin and manatees will often seek shelter in open water or find sheltered areas during hurricanes. Unfortunately, that is not always possible. 

Beyond the immediate dangers for survival, wildlife will then have to contend with the damages of the saltwater on their, water, food and habitat. The delicate balance of fresh and salt water can easily upset the ecosystems and harming the creatures who live in them.

Storms in our lives

None of us wants to go through a storm. Not just hurricanes, but storms in so many other aspects of our lives. It is easy to be grateful when things are going well. but even in challenging times, we can find things to be grateful for. 

In storms like Hurricane Ian, which shatters life as we know it, what’s really valuable becomes crystal clear.


We are blessed to have everyone in our “Ding” family of friends. Thank you for caring for the wildlife who need the Refuge to survive, for the people who work there and for our entire island communities of Sanibel, Captiva and the state of Florida. 

Please consider supporting FISH of Sanibel and the Red Cross to help so many thousands of people affected by this devastating hurricane.  

Photo to left by Terry Baldwin

The "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society is the non-profit friends group supporting the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge Complex.


Birgit Miller, Executive Director

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