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Hurricane Ian — One Year Later: Favorite island gems welcoming visitors once again

By TIFFANY REPECKI - | Oct 2, 2023

More than 500 individuals attended the Sanibel Sea School’s summer camp programs. SANIBEL SEA SCHOOL

Sanibel and Captiva are known around the world for their pristine beaches and top-notch shelling opportunities, but another big draw for visitors and locals of all ages is their unique attractions.

One year after Hurricane Ian left behind a path of destruction across Southwest Florida — more specifically, Lee County and its barrier islands — those favorite places to visit are in various stages of recovery. Some have been restored; others still have work to do. But rebuilding is the goal for all.

Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum sustained 5 feet of flooding and a 20-foot roof hole, leading to major water and structural damage throughout the building, including the aquariums and The Great Hall of Shells. Rebuilding is progressing steadily with new floors, walls and ceilings in place throughout much of the damaged areas.

The aquarium systems have been replaced and reinstalled, and preparations are under way to welcome marine life this fall. The museum’s reopening will be phased with the aquariums opening by the end of this year, with The Great Hall and special exhibition galleries set for the first part of 2024.

The Great Hall of Shells at The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel. BAILEY-MATTHEWS NATIONAL SHELL MUSEUM

For more information, visit www.shellmuseum.org or call 239-395-2233.

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is at 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel.


BIG ARTS was one of the few intact structures in good condition after the hurricane. It recently announced a full season for 2023-24. Programming will include performing arts, including the BIG ARTS Concert Band and BIG ARTS Community Chorus, community events, free fun gatherings, workshops including The Master Workshop Series, and more. Its two lectures services, FORUM and Talking Points, will return. BIG ARTS will also offer its film series, along with fine arts exhibitions. The BIG ARTS Gift Shop is open to browse and shop. For more information, visit bigarts.org or call 239-395-0900. BIG ARTS is at 900 Dunlop Road, Sanibel.

Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife’s hospital is back and continues to operate 365 days a year. Its Visitor Education Center and gift shop have reopened, and programs have restarted. CROW offers presentations and guided campus tours every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday starting at 11 a.m. Although some things have returned to a new normal, it is still in the process of rebuilding many of its outdoor enclosures that were destroyed or badly damaged during the hurricane.

The enclosures provide the last step of the rehabilitation process for many patients, and CROW has begun to rebuild them to withstand future storms. For more information, visit crowclinic.org or call 239-472-3644. CROW is at 3883 Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel.

J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge

After six months of cleanup, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge opened its Visitor & Education Center, Wildlife Drive, Bailey Tract and some trails in April. Free seasonal programming has resumed and the inaugural Art in the Wild will take place on Oct. 21-22. Work remains clearing trails, rebuilding boardwalks, restoring wildlife habitat and bringing the HVAC back to par.

The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge’s offices and intern housing were destroyed and will require rebuilding. The refuge’s Red Mangrove Overlook, Calusa Shell Mound Trail and parts of the Indigo Trail remain closed. For more information, visit “http://www.fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling or call 239-472-1100. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel.

Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Native Landscapes & Garden Center is on a record-breaking roll in selling native plants to islanders and businesses who are restoring their landscapes.

Its “Post-Hurricane Ian Replanting Guide” identified more than 50 species of plants that survived the storm, proving the value in landscaping in ways that promote resilience, as well as habitat for wildlife. The center is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visitors are welcome to peruse the sprawling grounds and take a walk on the meandering Shipley Trail. SCCF’s Periwinkle Preserve trail is the only other trail that is currently open.

For more information, visit sccf.org or call 239-472-2329. The center is at 1300 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel.

Sanibel Historical Museum and Village

When the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village closed in June, earlier than the normal seasonal closure, it was to get a head start on its hurricane repairs before reopening for season in mid-October. Restoration work was scheduled to take place on Miss Charlotta’s Tea Room, the Burnap Cottage, Rutland House, post office and schoolhouse. Prior to the closure, four of its buildings — the old Bailey General Store, Morning Glories, Shore Haven and the Caretakers’ Cottage — had been reopened post-storm. For more information, visit sanibelmuseum.org or call 239-472-4648. The Sanibel Historical Museum and Village is at 950 Dunlop Road, Sanibel.

Sanibel Sea School

With its flagship campus scheduled to reopen this fall, the Sanibel Sea School has been actively engaging youths and families alike with its immersive and fun ways of instilling ocean love. More than 500 individuals attended summer camp based out of the SCCF’s Bailey Homestead Preserve.

This fall, a range of programs that cater to different age groups and interests are available. After-school programs are available on Wednesday afternoons and are open to residents and visitors alike. Beach walks in partnership with the Island Inn are offered on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. and enriching family, corporate and group programs are available anytime. For more information, visit sanibelseaschool.org or call 239-472-8585.

The flagship campus is at 455 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel.

Tarpon Bay Explorers

Tarpon Bay Explorers opened in February after 6 feet of standing water flooded the facility. The hurricane totaled its pontoon and bike fleet, 49-passenger tour boat and Aquarium Touch Tanks. TBE offers kayak, paddleboard and Hobie fishing kayak rentals, kayak and tram tours, and a nature-themed gift shop.

Guided Kayak Tours are on Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 a.m. and Tram Tours are on Thursdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.; reservations are recommended for both. TBE is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; rentals stop at 3 p.m. Its gift shop is open on the same days.

For more information, visit tarponbayexplorers.com or call 239-472-8900. TBE is at 900 Tarpon Bay Road, Sanibel.

The Community House

The Sanibel Community Association’s The Community House is hosting Kiwanis, Rotary and the Original Shell Crafters in the lobby, which has plenty of space for meetings. The front of the facility is functioning with office, bathrooms, the lobby and Islanders conference room. Within the next month, the kitchen equipment for the commercial kitchen will be in and the Great Hall and Community Room will have the audio/visual, with lighting finalized. The Founders Room, which is the historical part of the building, will be tiled, drywalled and looking close to finish by Oct. 1. Stop in Sept. 30 from 2 to 5 p.m. to sightsee. For more information, visit sanibelcommunityhouse.net or call 239-472-2155. The Community House is at 2173 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel.