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May 11, 2023

"Ding" Darling - Theodore Cross High School Photo Contest

.Following a contest judging on April 28, DDWS announced winners and finalists in the ninth annual “Ding” Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest at the Refuge. The competition invites high school students from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades, and Hendry counties to compete for prizes.


Refuge Ranger Yvette Carrasco, Fort Myers News-Press photojournalist Andrew West, and Refuge supporter Nancy Adams judged the contest. They reviewed 321 images taken by students from nine different schools. First place went to an image titled “Nature’s Bandit” by READ MORE


To view winning images online and for information on the 2024 photo contest, visit the contest website.

Chase Qurollo’s "Nature's Bandit" won first place.

Summer Wildlife Drive Admission in Effect

May through September, your admission pass to Wildlife Drive turns into a three-day ticket. Keep your pass to re-enter free for the following two consecutive days. NOTE: Wildlife Drive closes on Fridays, so your pass is good for the next Saturday if your consecutive days fall during a weekend. 

Two New Board Members

At a recent meeting of the DDWS Board of Directors, members elected two island residents to their fold: Robin L. Cook and William W. Millar. They will serve three-year terms on the Board, supporting the Refuge conservation mission. Robin has lived in Lee County for the past READ MORE

Robin L. Cook

Bill Millar

Spring/Summer Society Pages


Members now are receiving their copy of the spring/summer DDWS newsletter. You can also read it ONLINE for your convenience.


PLEASE NOTE: In the front-page photo of the reopening ribbon cutting, the Chamber uses totally biodegradable confetti in its celebrations and refrains from blowing off the “confetti cannon” when near the water. 

Wellness Week Highlights

A full schedule of public activities and private outreach events brought a flush of wellness to the Refuge and participants with its second annual Wellness Week, May 3-9, in coordination with National Mental Health Month. Two keynote speakers drew curious crowds to learn more about the healing propensities of nature. Dr. Geraldine V. Oades-Sese, child resilience psychologist, and Dr. Joe Blanda, healing-through-nature advocate, focused on rising from the storm, building resilience, and nature immersion to positively impact mental health. Other activities ranged from mindfulness walks and Nature Bootcamp to birding and biking tours and a meditative stroll through FGCU’s Food Forest. 


“People protect the things they love and care for,” said Ranger Jessica Barry, event organizer. “The purpose of the Refuge's annual Wellness Week was to offer healing, emotionally impactful experiences with the hopes of cultivating a community more deeply connected to and appreciative of the nature around them. .”

Child resiliency psychologist Dr. Geraldine Oades-Sese and Ranger Jess took Wellness Week to Sanibel School with a special Wildlife Education Boardwalk hike and a reading of her new book Melusine: Birds of Many Feathers.

Guided mindful nature walk at Bailey Tract

Save October 21 for Art in the Wild

In celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week and “Ding” Darling’s 146th birthday, DDWS and the Refuge introduce Art in the Wild at “Ding” Darling on Saturday, October 21. "Ding" Darling originally scheduled the inaugural event for October 2022, but had to cancel it after Hurricane Ian closed the Refuge in September for six months.


Stay tuned for announcements about free activities honoring 2023-2024 Duck Stamp artists and the legacy of Refuge namesake Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist of the early 20th century. The famous Hautman brothers, multiple Federal Duck Stamp Contest winners, will make personal appearances that day. A special exhibition of their nature art also will be on display in READ MORE


DDWS seeks sponsors for this year's Art in the Wild. For information, contact April Boehnen.

WoW Update: The School Year Finale

This week, WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) makes its last road trip of the school year, to Title-1 school Orangewood Elementary in Fort Myers. The WoW team will share their interactive lessons with the students through May 15.


With the school year ending, the WoW educators switch gears to summer camp. The theme of the camps is Micro Mania, which entails the use of microscopes and microplastics activities a portion of which has been supported by the endowed Dr. David A. Drachman Education Fund. Already five commitments are on the docket with more being scheduled:


June 12-16: Eden Park Elementary, Immokalee

June 19-23: Harlem Heights Community Charter School, Fort Myers

June 26-30: Harns Marsh Elementary, Lehigh Acres

July 3-7: Sunshine Elementary, Lehigh Acres

July 21-28 (tentative): PACE Center for Girls, Fort Myers


Donate today to support the upkeep and staffing for WoW and community connections efforts. That outreach effort alone reaches more than 7,000 students a year at a cost of about $25 per student. Thank you for helping us spread the conservation message to those with limited opportunities, so they, too, can experience and appreciate wildlife and its habitat.

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

Refuge Programming & Events



Thanks to our 2023 SPONSORS.

  • SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future holds its next community meeting on May 22 at BIG ARTS on Sanibel Island. 6 - 8 p.m.

  • Through May, a mini-exhibition of Artist in Residence Jacqui Roch’s Refuge-inspired work runs in the Visitor & Education Center Auditorium.

New Tour Hours

Tarpon Bay Explorers has cut back its kayak tours to Wednesdays only at 10 a.m., and tram tours Thursdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Call 239-472-8900 or visit online to reserve your spots.

Current Refuge Hours:

  • Wildlife Drive - 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday (closed Friday)
  • Visitor & Education Center and the Refuge Nature Store - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday (closed Friday)
  • Tarpon Bay Explorers - 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (last rentals at 3 p.m.).
  • Bailey Tract – sunrise-sunset daily

Resiliency Group Recruitment

SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future seeks volunteers for several of its topically focused Work Groups. Topics include Building, Landscaping, and Communications. Learn more and respond by Friday, May 26.

You can also learn more by attending the group’s 6 p.m. meeting May 22 at BIG ARTS on Sanibel. This meeting will focus on lessons learned about emergency response. Sanibel's City Manager will be the moderator, and the panel will consist of a variety of Sanibel, Captiva, and Lee County professionals who were on the ground managing the post-hurricane response.

Hurricane (and Related Environmental) Update

We consistently update our Resource Page and include a hurricane update each week in our "Ding" on the Wing. Call us with any Refuge questions at 239-292-0566.  Here is a printable pdf of resources. We are trying to keep it updated and hoping it helps. 

Here are a few new links: 

  • The post office trailers on Sanibel will be closed May 10-11 while they transition back to the building
  • 2023 Lee County VCB Annual Hurricane Tourism Industry Workshop Information
  • SanCap Citizens for a Resilient Future will hold their next community event on May 22nd at BIG ARTS.
  • Trappers remove gator being illegally fed on Sanibel Island
  • Feeding alligators is dangerous and a violation of FLa. Admin. Code R. 68A-25.001 
  • Hurricane Ian debris still washing up on Fort Myers Beach
  • Hurricane Preparedness, Florida Division of Emergency Management
  • SWFL residents concerned about Ian-damaged roofs ahead of rainy season
  • How drones can help coastal SWFL build back stronger after Ian
  •  Local writer's group is gathering stories about Hurricane Ian
  • A message from Matt Devitt on Florida weather: 'time for a change'
  • Resorts on Sanibel's hard-hit Gulf shore work toward Ian recovery
  • Shell museum closes again as it undergoes storm restoration work
  • Fort Myers Beach church that became ground zero for support after Hurricane Ian set to be torn down 
  • Florida codes keep new homes 'high and dry.' Do they make flooding worse for neighbors?
  • Resilient Lee housing branch stresses affordable housing for federal funding
  • Your Homeowners’ Insurance Bill Is the Canary in the Climate Coal Mine
  • Another View: Ian’s destruction still present
  • Hurricanes fueled by climate change could impact Cape Coral
  • Least terns begin nesting
  • Sanibel Property Owners: If you have concerns about neighboring properties, email Code Enforcement or call 239.472.4136
  • Experts urge caution while using boat ramps this season
  • FEMA Releases New Flood Insurance Rates by ZIP Code. Brace for Impact.
  • Bill likely to lead to sprawling development
  • Business owners impatient over insurance money
  • FEMA creates housing plan for families recovering from Ian
  • New National Flood Insurance Program rates will force most SWFL homeowners to pay more
  • Rec center provides update on offerings, facilities
  • CROW patients move into enclosure post-storm
  • Sanibel flower shop reopens in Estero in time for Mother's Day
  • Fort Myers Beach mini golf course listed for sale at $2.2 million
  • NOAA Coast Survey GIS web mapping portal: nowCOAST
  • We must rethink how we build on barrier islands
  • Lee County water customers face surge in rates to cope with growth
  • How to identify Florida's most venomous snakes that you will see
  • NOAA Planet Stewards Education Project
  • To meet the climate crisis head-on, our approach to water storage must change
  • Birding in Fort Myers Florida: herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills
  • Giant blobs of seaweed are hitting Florida. That's when the real problem begins
  • Here’s why sea walls alone won’t save Florida from climate change
  • Wildfire in the Big Cypress National Preserve now 5% contained
  • Warming-stoked tides eating huge holes in Greenland glacier
  • US agency: Environmental impact study to look at threat to sea turtles
  • ‘Where are the workers?’: Despite SWFL population boom, employers struggle to hire
  • Sandspurs may threaten baby shorebirds; new invention aims to help
  • Climate change: Florida tops list facing greatest threat
  • NOAA Investments to Confront Climate Crisis in National Marine Sanctuaries
  • Support a new Florida license plate to protect gopher tortoises. Once 3,000 vouchers are purchased, the specialty plate will be produced.

Wellness Tip

As part of our Nature Wellness Program for 2023, watch here for tips on how to center your mind and improve your wellbeing both outdoors and indoors.

Happy Mental Health Month

This week’s tip: Chill out this summer!

If you have spent any time in Southwest Florida over the past month, you know how warm it’s been. Perhaps you’ve daydreamed about jumping into a pool of ice water to cool off on those especially brutal afternoons. It turns out, that might not be such a bad idea.

Numerous research studies point at the physical and mental health benefits of immersing yourself in cold water (but comfort isn’t one). This study from the National Institutes of Health outlines how cold-water immersion helped to reduce symptoms of depression in clinically diagnosed patients. Researchers discovered the cold water signals an adrenaline response throughout your body and, as a result, releases endorphins in your brain that boost mood. Additionally, intentional breathing during this adrenaline response is also a great way to build tolerance to discomfort.  

Wildlife Sightings & Tides

Don't forget to look down next time you visit the Refuge. Box Turtles are solely found in North America. Florida Box Turtles are active throughout the year in Florida.

Click HERE to see this week's wildlife sightings.

Photo by Rebecca Clemens

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!


Birgit Miller, Executive Director

"Ding" On The Wing composed by Chelle Koster Walton. Designed by Ali Reece.

Darling Dose of "Ding"

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