Courtesy Google Maps
Sanibel & Captiva Islands, Florida
Sanibel Island is an island located on the
Gulf coast of Florida, just offshore of Fort Myers. Located within Lee
County, 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
The city of Sanibel incorporates the entire island, with most of the
city 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 May 1963, the residents fought back against over
development by incorporating the island as a city in 1974. A new, higher
bridge without a bascule (drawbridge) having to open for tall boats and
sailboats, was completed in late 2007. The 1963 bridge was broken up and
dumped offshore to create an artificial reef.
The island's curved shrimp-like shape forms Tarpon Bay on the north side
of the island. It is linked to the mainland by the Sanibel Causeway,
which runs across two small manmade islets and the Intracoastal
Waterway. A short bridge links Sanibel Island to Captiva Island over
Blind Pass. The Gulf side beaches are excellent on both islands, and are
world renowned for their variety of seashells, which include coquinas,
scallops, whelks, sand dollars, and other deeper-water mollusks, both
univalve and bivalve. The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum is the only
museum in the world dedicated to the study of shells.
Sanibel Island is home to a good variety of birds, including the Roseate
Spoonbill and several nesting pairs of Bald Eagles. 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 birds like
terns, sandpipers, and seagulls. There is a population of American
Alligators, and a lone rare American Crocodile has been seen at the
refuge as well. Plants on the island include the native sea grape, sea
oats, mangroves, and several types of palm trees. The Australian pine is
an introduced species that has spread throughout the island, to some
extent overpowering native vegetation and trees. Once mature, the pine
blocks sunlight and drops a thick bed of pine needles that affect the
soil's pH and prevents new native growth. The ground is very soft.
Sanibel and Captiva formed as one island about 6000 years ago. The first
humans in the area were the ancestors to the Calusa, who arrived about
2500 years ago. The Calusa were a powerful Indian nation who came to
dominate most of southwest Florida through trade and their elaborate
system of canals and waterways. Sanibel remained an important Calusa
settlement until the collapse of their empire, soon after the arrival of
In 1765 the first known appearance of a harbor on Sanibel is labeled on
a map, listed as Puerto de S. Nivel. An official Spanish map from 1768
identifies the island as Puerto de S. Nibel (the "v" and "b" being
interchangeable); thus, the name may have evolved from "San Nibel".
Alternately, the name may derive, as many believe, from "(Santa) Ybel",
which survives in the old placename "Point Ybel", where the Sanibel
Island Light is located. How it would have gotten this name, however is
a matter of conjecture. One story says it was named by Juan Ponce de
León for Queen Ysabel (Isabella) of Castile; the island may indeed be
named for this queen or the saint whose name she shares, either by Ponce
de León or someone later. Another tale says it was named by Roderigo
Lopez, the first mate of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), after his beautiful
lover Sanibel whom he had left behind in Spain. Like most of the lore
surrounding Gasparilla, however, this story is apocryphal, as the above
references to recognizable variants of the name predate the buccaneer's
Sanibel is not the only island in the area to figure prominently in the
legends of Gaspar; Captiva, Useppa, and Gasparilla are also connected.
Sanibel also appears in another tale, this one involving Gaspar's
ally-turned-rival Black Caesar, said to have been a former Haitian slave
who escaped during the Haitian Revolution to become a pirate. According
to folklore, Black Caesar came to the Gulf of Mexico during the War of
1812 to avoid interference from the British. In the Gulf he became
friends with Gasparilla, who allowed him to set up on Sanibel Island.
Eventually the old Spaniard discovered Caesar had been stealing from him
and chased him off, but not before his loot had been buried.
Legendary pirate's dens aside, the first modern settlement on Sanibel
(then spelled "Sanybel") was established by the Florida Peninsular Land
Company in 1832. The colony never took off, and was abandoned by 1849.
It was this first group that first petitioned for a lighthouse on the
island. The island was re-populated after the implementation of the
Homestead Act in 1862, and again a lighthouse was petitioned.
Construction on the Sanibel Island Light was begun in 1883, but the
community remained small. In May 1963 a causeway linking Sanibel and
Captiva to the mainland was opened, resulting in an explosion of growth.
The City of Sanibel passed new restrictions on development after it was
incorporated; these were challenged by developers, to no avail.
Currently the only buildings on the island taller than two stories date
before 1974, and there are no fast food restaurants allowed on the
island except a Dairy Queen. A new causeway was completed in 2007; it
replaced the worn out 1963 spans, which were not designed to carry heavy
loads or large numbers of vehicles. The new bridge features a "flyover"
span tall enough for sailboats to pass under, replacing the old bridge's
bascule drawbridge span.