DOTW green header.png

February 23, 2023

Ribbon-cutting at Tarpon Bay

Tarpon Bay Explorers, the Refuge recreation concession, reopened with limited services on February 1. The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce honored the occasion on Tuesday, February 21, with an official ribbon-cutting at Tarpon Bay Recreation Area.


Services and facilities currently available include: Gift & Nature Shop, kayak and paddleboard rentals, launch ramp (non-motorized vehicles only), and kayak tours every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10 a.m. Call 239-472-8900 to reserve or book ahead online. Hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5p.m., with last rentals of the day at 3 p.m.


“As soon as we can generate enough revenue to pay additional staff, we will be able to expand how many days we are open,” said co-owner Wendy Schnapp. “Right now, there are just three of us working. We will add more kayak tours once we have the demand.”


"We are so thrilled to take this exciting first step toward Refuge recovery," said Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland. She and Wendy are pleased to see people finding relief from the mental and physical duress of the storm and its aftermath with a dose of nature at Tarpon Bay.


“Whether people want to just come over and watch the manatees and birds from the deck or actually get out and paddle, our facility opening is able to provide that much needed release,” said Wendy. “A big thank you to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the ‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Society for all they have done to help us recover and open.”


“As the islands’ main attraction, along with our beaches, ‘Ding’ Darling’s recovery benefits us all,” said

John Lai, Chamber President and CEO. “We join everyone in sending up a big cheer of encouragement as Tarpon Bay Explorers forges ahead.”

Photo credit: Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce

Advocacy in Action

The Start of the Construction of the EAA Reservoir: A Reason for a Cautious Celebration

By Jim Metzler, DDWS Advocacy Committee Co-chair

"In a previous newsletter, I mentioned that in 2018 the federal government authorized the building of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The purpose of the reservoir is to hold water from Lake O and farm runoff in the wet season and release this water south in the dry season. To comply with federal law, freshwater, after leaving the reservoir, will move through a stormwater treatment area (STA). The STA is a network of manmade filter marshes designed to remove phosphorus and other nutrients that are harmful to the plants and wildlife before the water continues READ MORE

Hurricane Update

We consistently update our Resource Page and include a hurricane update each week in our "Ding" on the Wing. Please access those doing a better job with on-the-ground updates, such as the City of Sanibel. 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: 

  • Red Tide Alert posted for Lee County
  • Wink News: "Red tide persisting in some SWFL waters" article.
  • Right-of-way placement of debris deadline extended to March 1.
  • 50% Rule: Agency relents on Lee Co. property appriaser values. Article
  • City of Sanibel: Household Chemical Waste Collection Event Set for March 1, 2023. Read here.
  • SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future will hold the first of a two-part "town hall" style meeting on March 9 from 6 to 9 p.m. at BIG ARTS, with live-streaming also available. It will focus on sharing community stories about Hurricane Ian experiences. As part of the group's consortium, DDWS urges your attendance.
  • The CROW Gift Shop has reopened at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Rd Sanibel, FL 33957
  • Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel Island seeks submissions for a special temporary exhibit "In the Wake of the Flood: Community Photographs of Hurricane Ian and Its Aftermath." Please send images here
  • Hope Rising: Sanibel Rec Center is hosting a post-Ian artistic presentation on Sanibel on Wednesday March 8.
  • Wink News: "Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille reopening on Sanibel after post-Ian repairs" article.
  • Santiva Chronicle: "Chamber Creates Wander Map App As Interactive Guide To Opened Businesses" article. View interactive map.
  • Public beaches that have reopened on Sanibel/Captiva include: Tarpon Bay Beach and Blind Pass Beach. Learn more
  • News-Press: "Hurricane Ian: Another Southwest Florida lodging landmark not returning. What we know." article.
  • Gulfshore Business: "Legislature passes reforms to secure SWFL’s property insurance situation" article.
  • "How two islands could shape Florida’s post-Ian recovery" article.
  • "The climate change real estate bubble risks billions" article.
  • News-Press: "FEMA threatens removal of Lee County property owners from National Flood Insurance Program" article.
  • City of Sanibel Resolution of FEMA concerns with Sanibel Market Value Determinations post Hurricane Ian.
  • Naples Daily News: "Florida lawmakers look at change to ‘Save Our Homes’ property tax cap" article.
  • FGCU: Scientists studying Ian’s impact on artificial reef damage, coral read more
  • "Observation of the Coastal Areas, Estuaries and Deltas from Space" article.
  • Disturbance events such as hurricanes make landscaped and natural areas more susceptible to invasion by pest plants and the introduction of invasive exotic plant species. Now is the time to check your property for invasive exotic plants to remove.
  • Lee County Horticultural Agent Stephen Brown to Provide Post-Storm Landscape Restoration Lecture 3 p.m., March 2, 2023, at BIG ARTS
  • Lee County OKs new Big Carlos bridge, new Read More

Starting TODAY (February 23) you can find this exclusive design at tour "pop-up shop" at the Sanibel Market from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. through Sunday, February 26. The Sanibel Market is located at Rachel Pierce’s Art Gallery, 1571 Periwinkle Way on Sanibel Island, directly across from Dixie Beach Boulevard. This wonderful collection includes men’s and women’s t-shirts, matted prints, die-cut stickers, wooden postcards, and magnets. Each piece is made and packaged in the USA, using entirely recycled, reclaimed, eco-friendly, sustainably sourced, and non-toxic materials. Those looking to support can come by and find the entire Wild Spaces Collection along with other wonderful “Ding” gifts.

Anyone who is out of the area, fret not! Look for the online launch of our new collection next week.

Celebrate and help protect our wild spaces today with your purchase.

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

Scott Becque’s “Azure Eye Ring” took second place.

2022 Photo Contest Winners

On February 6, DDWS held an official judging for its 30th annual “Ding” Darling Amateur Nature Photography Contest. The 2022 winners were to be announced in October at the Refuge’s inaugural Art in the Wild festival, but Hurricane Ian in September canceled the event and contest judging.


Judges selected three winners and 10 honorable mentions out of 140 entries from 22 states and three countries. All photograph entries were shot at the Refuge complex. “Despite the disruption from Hurricane Ian, the contest generated much excitement and nostalgia among READ MORE


View a slideshow of this year’s winners and learn information about the 2023 contest.

Almost Sold out!


Reservations for DDWS’ annual fundraiser Go Bully for “Ding” – An Evening with Teddy Roosevelt are open and selling out quickly, closing February 27 at 5 p.m. Only 10 tickets remain.

The event starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 6, at Broadway Palm in Fort Myers. In consideration of the hardships many island residents and business owners have suffered since the hurricane in September, DDWS has lowered the price of tickets to $75 per person this year.


Learn more from Teddy Roosevelt reprisor Joe Weigand, who headlines the evening’s event, or visit our webpage. Thanks to all our fabulous sponsors (see below).

Current sponsors:

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

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 long road to recovery.


Congratulations to our generous business partner, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, which officially reopened on Sanibel Island Friday, February 17, with a Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting.


“We're excited to get back open after a long 4.5 months of rebuilding,” said Joe Harrity, one of the restaurant’s partners. “We've heard nothing but excitement about our reopening, and the reopening of the island as a whole. Being able to get our employees back to work is a great feeling as well, as about 75 percent of our staff prior to the storm are coming back, and some never left, helping us through the rebuild.”


The popular restaurant returns not only with familiar faces, but the same look and menu to bring back a sense of comfort and normalcy. As in the past, the restaurant opens daily for lunch and dinner.


“We received about eight inches of water throughout the building,” said Joe. “We decided it was best to cut the four feet of drywall and wainscoting to remove any possibility of mold. We are getting all new booths, and did a completely new paint job inside, so the place will really look nice.”


“We’ve had so many inquiries wondering when Doc Ford’s will reopen,” said John Lai, chamber president and CEO. “It’s such a huge feeling of progress to have its doors back open for some Yucatan shrimp and an icy mojito.”


“We are so happy for Doc Ford’s,” said DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller. “They’ve always been there for us – as major sponsors of the ‘Ding’ Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament, ‘Ding’ Darling Day, and other events to support the Refuge. We urge all our friends to again support the restaurant.”

Photo credit Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce

Unable to attend the Go Bully for "Ding" event, but would still like to support the recovery and conservation efforts at the Refuge? You can call to make a bid now on one or all of the auction items described above or arrange to have someone call you live that evening.

Email April Boehnen or call Birgie at 239.292.0566

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 239-292-0566.

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 one upcoming informational Zoom meeting and two in-person meetings in Fort Myers and on Sanibel. Attend any of the FREE events by clicking below to pre-register. Times for all of the meetings are 6 to 7:30 p.m.

 ZOOM MEETING: Tuesday, February 28


IN-PERSON MEETING: Tuesday, March 14

at All Faiths Unitarian Congregation, 2756 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers


IN-PERSON MEETING: Wednesday, March 15

at Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, 3075 Sanibel Captiva Rd, Sanibel Island

WoW Update: FGCU Honors Students

The WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) has built a great partnership with four students from Jessica Rhea’s honors class at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Fort Myers. Three of the students will build social media content about WoW, while the other will create a new lesson plan. Thanks to everyone involved in making this partnership happen at a time when the team has lost internship help following Hurricane Ian.


WoW, currently the Refuge’s primary education tool while the Visitor & Education Center is closed, operates with a reduced team because of the hurricane’s impact on staffing. Now, more than ever, Refuge community outreach needs your help. 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 to experience and appreciate wildlife and its habitat.

‘Ding’ Donation

Thank You! Optimist Club members Richard McCurry and Stan Howard recently announced the sunset of their island chapter. They disbursed funds to two Sanibel nonprofits, presenting checks for $12,769.17 each to Melissa Rice with Community Housing & Resources (left) and Ann-Marie Wildman with "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society (right).

Click cartoon to see it enlarged.

Cartoon of the Month

As we see President’s Day in our rear-view mirror and “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament straight ahead, we thought it would be fun to share this chuckle penned in 1930 by our own Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling. The Pulitzer-winning cartoonist was an avid sportsman, which led to his strong conservation ethic, frequently expressed in his political cartoons. He wasn’t shy either, about taking shots at the workings of the U.S. government. Learn more about his accomplishments.

Junior Duck Stamp Outreach

Recently, the Refuge Junior Duck Stamp team reached hurricane survivors from the Fort Myers Elementary School, who are currently displaced to San Carlos Park Elementary.


“They’ve been through so much,” says Supervisory Ranger Toni Westland. “And it looks like they won’t get their school back, it’s so sad. But they were really excited about the Junior Duck Stamp contest and learning how to draw a duck from ‘a real artist,’ our Artist-in-Residence Jacqui Roch, who appears on our instructional video.”

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 that are still being planned.

Photo caption: Join Friday Mindful Meditation at Sanibel Rec Center in partnership with “Ding.”

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 .

A poem by Meghan Prindle:

A Morning Drive on Huron Parkway

Sometimes there's no silver lining.

Sometimes a cloud is just a cloud,

hanging, humid and hazy

and so very heavy.

But the sun's early east angles

add a touch of blush to the sky,

a softness to the trees,

and roll out the hills of the valley,

where under the bridge

the river and the lily pads 

and the ponds and the dams

still lead to the Lake.

Photo caption: A photo by Aubrie Andrea taken on West Gulf at Mitchells Sand Castles.


Hydration Motivation


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.

Water: The majority of our planet and physical bodies consist of it. Staying properly hydrated is essential for physical and mental health, yet the National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that nearly 75% of adults live day-to-day chronically dehydrated.

The tip this week: Find creative ways to drink the recommended amount of water (no one size fits all, so check with your doctor to be sure). Add frozen fruit to your water, get a fun water bottle, create a water-drinking challenge with a friend, or combine drinking a cup of water with a pre-existing routine such as brushing your teeth.

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