Category Archives: Ecotourism

Shells of SW Florida

The Shells of SW Florida are a great collection of marine life that have washed up on beaches including Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach, Naples, Lovers key State Beach and others. Sanibel is one of the best beaches to collect and view sea shells that have washed up on the beach because of its unique shape which has a long shoreline which faces the Gulf of Mexico and whose currents  deposit new shells each day.

Some of the photos above are a partial collection of shells you will see on the beach. One artistic person made a dolphin out of shells on the beach which is not uncommon among the shell collectors on the island. Some of the popular shells of SW Florida include the Lightning Whelk, Lace Murex, Alphabet Cone, Florida Fighting Conch,  Lettered Olive and Banded Tulip. Visit the Ft. Myers Sanibel website to see the “Sanibel Six” Sea Shells.

Technically a sea shell is a hard outer covering that is made by a marine sea creature that lives inside called a Mollusk. Mollusks are soft bodied animals without backbones but contain other organs and have feet or a foot that allows them to crawl into out of the shell. Once a mollusks dies or crawls out of it shell, the shells are carried by the ocean tides to the beach and other places. It is against the law in SW Florida to collect live shells or shells containing mollusks.

The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island has a great collection of shells from the local region as well as from around the world. There is a live touch tank inside the museum. The staff at the museum also gives daily walks to nearby beaches. I found another interesting website with great shell art at Pinterest. To see larger images of the shells above, click on their images.










Sunsets on Sanibel

Sunsets on Sanibel have been popular for vacationers and residents to enjoy because of the wide vistas and open skies in which to enjoy the views. The myriad of colors and variations of lights caused by clouds and the suns vanishing appearance draws many people to the beaches to see the sun disappear below the horizon.

Popular spots to see Sunsets on Sanibel are the beaches on the island along the Gulf of Mexico and the Sanibel Causeway Islands which runs across the Pine Island Sound and carries the 2 lane road which is the only access point to Sanibel by vehicle. It is not uncommon to see groups of people standing or seated along the beaches and causeway islands watching the sun set and disappearing below the horizon.

The actual time of sunrise and sunset varies of course depending on time of year. The City of Sanibel Web Site has a link which gives the time of sunrise and sunset in this area. It has the chart of tidal information for fisherman and the temperature of water for swimmers.

The pictures shown above were taken at different times of the year and display sunsets at different times of the evening. One of the prettiest sights to see are the rainbows across the sky near Sanibel after a rain storm. Click on one of the photos in this post to see a larger image.











Sanibel Island Mailboxes

Sanibel Island is famous for the sea shells that cover its’  beach shorelines. Residents and vacationers roam the beaches looking for a wide variety of shells that wash up on the shores each day. The Florida Current and Sanibel’s unique shape allow Mollusks and shells to wash up on its shores. Sanibel Island residents take pleasure in decorating their mailboxes with these shells and artwork with displays wildlife and nature.

Some of the mailboxes are on display in the photo gallery shown above. Click on one of the images for a larger view. Taking a bicycle ride through some of  Sanibel’s neighborhoods gives you a great opportunity to see the artwork and shells. The Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel has a great display of shells from all over the world. It is definitely worth the visit. The museum also gives daily  beach walks  with a marine biologist pointing out the marine life on the beaches. There is also a touch tank in the museum with live shells at Baily Matthews.

While you are on the island,, visit the world famous Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve. You can walk, bicycle or drive through the preserve and see hundreds of migratory birds, alligators and mangrove lined lakes and estuaries. Remember to bring your camera. The Visit Florida website has some good information about where to go and what to do on Sanibel.





Pop Ash Creek Preserve

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Pop Ash Creek Preserve is a 307 acre piece of land in northeast Lee County that is part of the Conservation 20/20  Program. Voters passed a referendum in 1996 which taxed property owners to purchase environmentally sensitive land for conservation and ecosystem protection. Since its inception, Lee County through the Conservation 20/20 program has acquired 123 properties and created 44 preserves which consists of over 24,000 acres.

Pop Ash Creek Preserve was purchased in 2003 for $1.5 million dollars. The land was heavily used for purposes such as soil and rock mining, agriculture and roads for moving cars through neighborhoods. Lee County and the Dept. of Natural Resources worked to reshape the land surfaces to make it look more natural as a wetland and dry prairie.  The preserve is located in a watershed consisting of other preserves and large tracts of land which help to move rain and slow moving water in a natural direction, southward. There are dry areas (mesic) and wet areas (hydric) that make up the Pop Ash Creek Preserve.

During my walk through the preserve which was led by an experienced  naturalist and guide we encountered a horse back rider who uses the trails for riding. It was nice to see the land used for purposes other than cars. The benefit of buying and preserving lands like Pop Ash is to re-establish land to its natural shape, allow ground water recharge, provide wildlife habitat and recreational uses for people.  The 1.5 mile walk through the preserve also allowed us to see filter marshes which helps to clean water which runs across the land and picks up fertilizers and other pollutants which would otherwise end up in our larger lakes and rivers.




Sanibel Island Bridge

The Sanibel Island Bridge was built and opened in 1963 which allowed traffic to freely move between the mainland of Ft. Myers and Lee County to Sanibel Island. Access to Sanibel Island use to be available only by ferry boat. Commercial traffic and businesses sprouted up on the island after the bridge was built but residents have saved the quaint and  small island feel of Sanibel by not allowing high rise Condo’s or fast food restaurants.

The Sanibel Island bridge is actually 3 bridges which reach across two man made islands which together make up the Sanibel Island Causeway. The causeway is 3 miles long and consists of several areas where people spend the day to fish, play water sports, picnic or spend time with family and friends. Since the new bridge was repaired and re-opened in 2007 which replaced the old draw bridge, bicyclists can now use a bicycle lane to trek across the causeway and 3 bridges. Caution should be taken however as there is no barrier between cars and bicycles other than a white line.

The main span of the new bridge is 17 ft 6 inches high and allows yachts and most kinds of boats to travel under who are making their way up the Caloosahatchee River or out to the San Carlos Bay or Gulf of Mexico. It’s fun to watch the boat traffic pass under and by the bridge. There are also several kinds of birds especially Pelicans who use the wind drafts along the bridge to glide  and look for fish to eat.

On windy days there are many wind surfers who use the wide open Pine Island Sound to race across the water. There are also kayakers, paddle boarders and people using jet ski’s who travel across the bridge and use the causeway islands to launch their craft. The toll to pass over the bridge is still a hefty $6 per car.

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Song Birds

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Song Birds are beautiful and colorful creatures in Florida and they attract people from all over the world who come to watch, listen and photograph them. There are over 4,000 species of Song Birds throughout the world and what distinguishes them from other birds is their well developed vocal organs which gives them the ability to produce long and elaborate sounds and songs. The pictures of the birds shown above, the Northern Cardinal, Mockingbird and Blue Jay are fun to listen to and look at as well. Some of the other common Song Birds I have encountered in Florida include the Yellow Warbler, Yellow Throated Vireo, Carolina Wren, Sparrows, and Red Bellied Woodpecker.

The All About Birds website created by the Cornell Univ. School of Ornithology produced a great website to teach birders how to identify the songs and physical features of Song Birds. I visit the All About Birds website often to learn more about the birds I see in my neighborhood and nearby preserves that I visit.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is also helpful in teaching anyone about the wildlife in Florida. They created the popular Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail website which lists places all over the state to see and photograph birds.

Song Birds sing and make their calls to attract mates and to warn other birds when intruders enter their territory. Mockingbirds are well known to protect their nests. trees and territory from other birds and predators by flying furiously through the air, scaring off unwanted visitors and giving off a loud series of screeches and sounds. They band together to form a cohesive group of birds in their territory and form a formidable defense against intruders.




Wildflowers in Florida

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Florida is home to thousands of wildflowers that give color and beauty to the gardens, parks,  preserves, roadsides and beaches of our state. I became interested in plants and wildflowers after I moved to Florida because I realized that they were an integral and important part of the culture, history and economy of the state. Florida was named by its first early Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de Leon, in 1513, who named it “ La Florida” or “The Flower”.

There are many flowers and plants that are native to Florida or ones that have existed here for over 500 years and many which have been brought here from other countries. There are also many that have also been hybridized or changed to enhance their color and characteristics. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, wildflowers grow in several geographic localities in Florida including Coastal Uplands, Hardwood Forests, Pine Flatwoods, Ruderals, Sandhills and Wetlands.

I have made a hobby of learning about the names of these wildflowers and taking pictures of them. I have had to use a field guide and internet resources to identify them. There are many companies and nurseries who sell these flowers and help gardeners keep their yards looking beautiful. There are also some non-profit organizations such as the Florida Wildflower Foundation and Florida Native Plant Society whose mission it is to preserve, and enhance the native flower communities in Florida and to educate the public about the importance in keeping these wildflower populations healthy and growing. The Florida Wildflower Foundation actually made a license plate tag which it sells through the Dept. of Transportation and has raised over $3 million dollars so far. The mission of the Florida Native Plant Society is “ to promote the preservation, conservation, and restoration of the native plant communities of Florida. They have chapters throughout the state and people can join and participate in conservation and educational programs.

The pictures that I took which are shown above were in parks and roadside areas in Ft. Myers, Sanibel Island and Naples.








Great Calusa Blueway is great for water sports

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The Great Calusa Blueway is a trail through the coastal waters of Lee County which covers open waters through the Gulf of Mexico, small rivers, estuaries, and preserves in and around Bonita Springs, Estero, Ft. Myers Beach, Cape Coral, Sanibel and Pine Island. The Blueway was created by the Lee County Dept. of Parks and Recreation as a way to attract people to the area for the water sports and ecotourism opportunities. The Great Calusa Blueway consists of over 190 miles of trails that are marked by the county.

Water Sports and eco-tourism generate a lot of business for the area hotels, restaurants and small businesses. 1 in 5 jobs in Lee County is dependent on tourism and tourism related activities. Statewide, eco-tourism activities generate over $38 billion dollars annually.

Some of the spots that I have kayaked include the Caloosahatchee River in Ft. Myers, Pine Island Sound off Sanibel Island, Estero River and Manatee Park in N. Ft. Myers. There are a lot of tour operators that rent kayaks, canoes, stand up paddle boards and wind surfers. The non-profit association Paddle Florida recommends that you check out these tour operators before renting out their equipment and make sure they have liability insurance. They also recommend looking at Trip Advisor for customer comments and suggestions.

The pictures I have taken above include some of the areas along the Great Calusa Blueway.




Sanibel Lighthouse

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The Sanibel Lighthouse has been an icon and landmark on Sanibel Island since 1884 and has drawn visitors to Sanibel Island for it’s historical significance and nearby beautiful beaches. It had acted as a navigational beacon for ships traveling around the barrier islands of SW Florida for over 100 years. There is a full time lighthouse keeper living next to the lighthouse and a nice path to walk around the lighthouse.

I made a trip to the Sanibel Lighthouse and beaches which surround the lighthouse on both the west and east sides of the southern tip of the island. It only takes a short walk to see the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico side of the island. If you walk to the east side of the island you can see the Pine Island Sound, Ft. Myers Beach and Sanibel Bridge in the distance.

There is a lot of activity near the lighthouse with a fishing pier and water sports such as parasailing. I enjoyed seeing a man throwing a ball out into the Gulf and watching his Golden Retriever swim after it.  The waves are usually choppy and currents strong on this part of the island so swimmers should be very careful. It is safer to swim on the Gulf of Mexico side further north on the islands’ beaches where the currents are not so strong. There is public parking in a few different lots next to the lighthouse and its costs a few dollars per hour. There are also restrooms nearby. The pictures above show the lighthouse from both the Gulf and Pine Island Side as well as the beach. There are a couple of good websites to learn more about traveling and or staying on Sanibel including the Chamber of Commerce and official Sanibel City website.





Fishing near Sanibel Island

Fishing on and off Sanibel Island is famous for its abundance and variety of fishing opportunities. Anglers use the plentiful areas to fish from shore along the Sanibel Causeway or go wading into the shallow waters to fish further out. Spanish Mackerel, Spotted Sea Trout, Sheepshead, Redfish, Cobia and others fish are caught near the island in shallow waters. Offshore fishing in deeper waters gives sport fishermen chances to land Snapper, Grouper, Sharks and other large fish. Lee and Collier Counties has created many offshore artificial reefs from concrete bridge parts and sunken boats. The Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau website has some good information about fishing and other things to do while visiting Sanibel.

The pictures I have shown above include people fishing from boats off the Sanibel Bridge span, a person fishing from a sandbar, sea wall and a few men fishing by wading up to their waists off the coastline. There is a pier on the island where many fisherman cast their lines into the Pine Island Sound. On any given day you can see people fishing off the beach or on the many sea walls on the causeway and island. The local birds which either dive or wade through the waters compete with fishermen for local catches. Osprey, Pelicans, Blue Herons  and White Egrets wade through the waters  and fly over the waterways looking for a meal. The waters around the Sanibel Causeway are part of the Great Calusa Blueway where people kayak or canoe. Fishing from kayaks is becoming a major pastime.  You can launch your kayak or canoe off the causeway or from a public boat launch on the island. There are also many vendors renting kayaks on and off the island.

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