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February 2, 2023

Tarpon Bay Explorers Reopens

Yesterday, February 1, marked the reopening of Tarpon Bay Explorers (TBE), the Refuge concession at Tarpon Bay Recreation Area. Having extensive damage from Hurricane Ian -- including the loss of most of its paddlecraft and all of its pontoon boats, rental bikes, and trams -- TBE is opening in gradual phases. Currently, its popular gift store is back up and running, and kayaks and paddleboards are available for rent. The ramp is open for nonmotorized vessel launching. Hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 8 a.m. to 5p.m. (last rentals at 3 p.m.).


By mid-month TBE hopes to begin offering paddling tours once more. "We are SO thrilled to take this exciting first step toward Refuge recovery," said Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland. Watch “Ding” on the Wing, social media, and the Tarpon Bay Explorers website for updates.

Hurricane Update

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

  • Temporary Post Office on Sanibel opens Monday, Feb. 6 for retail, PO Box service and package pickup Read More. Located at 650 Tarpon Bay Rd.
  • Attention Sanibel Voters: Vote By Mail Update
  • All voters registered for Vote By Mail (VBM) must renew their registration for the next two (2) years through the 2024 general election. Typically VBM ballots are not allowed to be forwarded, however, the Florida Secretary of State has waived that rule for Sanibel residents. Sanibel residents, whose mail is now forwarded will be able to receive VBM ballots by forwarded mail for the March 7 election only. You must still contact the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) office to renew your VBM registration and provide details of where your ballot should be sent. Contact that office online at or call 239.533.8683. Sanibel will NOT have early voting for this election.
  • Voter Registration Drive on Sanibel happens TODAYThursday, February 2, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Sanibel Recreation Center, 3880 Sanibel-Captiva Road, organized by the Lee County Supervisor of Elections staff. They can update voter information, register new voters, and complete your VBM registration.
  • WINK News: "Why researchers are studying SWFL mangroves after Hurricane Ian" article.
  • Final hurricane debris collection - "The Sanibel City Council voted to establish February 20, 2023, as the last day residents may place Hurricane Ian generated debris on the City’s right of way for collection by the City’s debris management contractor."
  • Napes Daily News: "Florida Senate seeks to bolster workforce housing" article.
  • Gulfshore Business: "DeSantis announces $100M award for beach recovery following Hurricanes Ian, Nicole" article.
  • The Sanibel Farmers Market has reopened and will be temporarily held in Jerry's Food parking lot.
  • Captiva Chapel By The Sea is welcoming guests back for season.
  • Click to learn more about the services FISH is offering to island residents.
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection announces Florida Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Application which opened February 1, 2023. This program provides reimbursement grants up to $150,000 per parcel with a 50/50 homeowner match requirement, which will cover construction costs associated with sand renourishment, addressing beach erosion on private property. Permitting is required. Please read the overview and FAQ’s

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

February 28: Solar Co-op Meeting

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 County with collective buying power to affordably convert to solar energy.


The co-op has scheduled an upcoming informational Zoom meeting for Tuesday, February 28, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. You will learn all about solar energy and its benefits for your home or small business, including the technology, economics, financing, and more. Register HERE.

March 31: Scholarships Application Deadline

Application deadline is March 31 for several DDWS scholarships amounting to more than $20,000. Ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 each, the scholarships are available to high school seniors, college students, and graduate students in or from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry, and Glades counties pursuing degrees in environmental-related studies.


Now in its 17th year, the DDWS scholarship program presented its first awards in 2006. To date, the program has awarded more than $233,000. Interested students can find information and printable application forms online. To learn more about the scholarship program and establishing a permanently endowed scholarship, contact Birgie Miller at 239-292-0566.

Photo caption: Conservation scholarships help replenish our world with young wildlife ambassadors.

Reservations for Annual Fundraiser Filling Fast


Reservations for DDWS’ annual fundraiser Go Bully for “Ding” – An Evening with Teddy Roosevelt are open and selling out quickly. Only 80 tickets remain.


The event takes place 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. Thanks to all our fabulous sponsors (see below). Become a sponsor and join those listed below in supporting this event and the conservation work at the Refuge. Learn more

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

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

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.


When it comes to supporting wildlife and conservation at “Ding” Darling, Captiva Cruises is full throttle. Whether it’s sponsoring the annual "Ding" Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament and other fundraising events or donating free cruises as auction prizes, this business partner is always generous.


“Captiva Cruises wishes ‘Ding’ Darling the best during their hurricane recovery and looks forward to continuing our long-time partnership,” said co-owner Brad Junghans.


In the wake of Hurricane Ian, Captiva Cruises opened late December with limited tours to serve local residents and passholders. After the causeway fully opened on January 2, operations expanded using two of the boats Captiva Cruises had moved inland before the storm. The 49-passenger power catamarans Santiva and Playtime do dolphin sightseeing cruises and luncheon excursions to Cabbage Key.


The team also moved the Lady Chadwick offsite for the storm, to a Fort Myers Beach boatyard for its annual inspection and maintenance. Storm surge delivered some damage to the boat, but it is expected to be repaired and back in service in coming months. The tour company also suffered significant damage to its docks and property.


“Our awesome crew has been helping with all the recovery efforts,” said co-owner Brad Junghans. “Before we opened for business, we brought disaster crews from Cape Coral to South Seas Island. While we are happy to back up and running, there is still lots of work to be done.”

Photo courtesy of Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce

High School Photo Contest

Deadline for the 10th annual Ding” Darling-Theodore Cross High School Photography Contest is March 1, 2023. It invites high school students in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades, and Hendry counties to compete for prizes that include a Canon digital SLR camera package, a one-year subscription to Adobe photography software, and a one-year family pass to all Florida state parks. The contest’s namesake, Ted Cross lived part-time on Sanibel Island, marched READ MORE

In 2022, Dani Moser from Cape Coral High took first place with her image "Fly."

WoW Update: Dedication

This week we salute our Urban Education Leader Melissa Maher, who takes capable charge of all things WoW (Wildlife on Wheels). Here she is hands-on at Orange River Elementary, a Title-1 school in Fort Myers. She is always on the front line with her team, teaching and interacting with students. Behind the scenes, she draws up lesson plans, schedules WoW visits, keeps track of stats and correspondence, and even cleans the WoW every day to make sure it is as safe as possible for the kids who visit. A more dedicated educator and administrator would be hard to find. Thanks, Melissa.

Upcoming WoW schedule:


February 6-16: Harns Marsh Elementary in Lehigh Acres


February 21-March 16: Oak Hammock Middle School in Fort Myers (Tice)


March 20-24: Spring Break


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 the wonder of nature.

Donors made these gifts to DDWS in honor and memory of friends and families during December 2022 and January 2023. Thank you to everyone who supported the Refuge in this thoughtful and meaningful way. Make a memorial or honor donation here.

AmazonSmile Charity Program to End

Amazon sent letters last month informing AmazonSmile donors that its program will end February 20. In case you doubted the veracity of the correspondence, you can check it out at Snopes. Thanks to all who have participated these past few years, indicating “Ding” Darling as your AmazonSmile beneficiary. We hope you will continue your donations using other internal tools, such as the ultra-convenient OMG (Once-a-Month Giver) program.

Sound of the Sands, March 25

In partnership with Bell Tower and Two Lane Lager, DDWS presents Sound of the SandsSaturday, March 25.


This special event will take place from 2 to 7 p.m. at the Bell Tower shopping plaza in Fort Myers, featuring local, well-known musicians. Admission is open to the public free of charge.


“Ding” Darling will set up stations with nature games for families and information about the Refuge and its recovery and how to support DDWS in its efforts to help build back and reinforce its conservation education, wildlife and water-quality preservation and research missions. Suncoast Beverage Sales will sell beer, and other Bell Tower merchants will be participating.

Interested in becoming a sponsor? Email April Boehnen to learn more.

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: Theodore Roosevelt reprisor Joe Wiegand stars at the Go Bully for “Ding” – An Evening with Teddy Roosevelt fundraiser March 6.

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 .


The tangerine sunrise

rubs its eyes and stretches

and reaches through snowy branches;

And yet, the television somehow matches

 the adjacent window scene --

common dolphin
pilot dolphin
spinner dolphin
an ocean of blue and white
and a sunrise of tangerine. 

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

"Shells by the Sea"

A friend of the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society shared with us a song that they wrote inspired by Sanibel. These lyrics have helped them remember the wonder of Sanibel following the destruction of Hurricane Ian, and they share them in hopes that it will remind others as well.


(Inspired by Sanibel Island) 


In and out... the sea goes, 

In and out, sharing its soul. 

In and out, high and low, 

In and out, fast and slow. 

The sea moves, they call it tides, 

Almost as if there is something inside. 

With it comes, many living things, 

Sounds of the sea, sounds that ring. 


Millions of shells wash on shore, 

Tomorrow, there will be millions more. 

They are homes for large and small, 

Once alive, short and tall. 


It's part of sea life, this washing up 

Part of the food chain, complex and yet right. 

We pick them up, some move... it's not time, 

Empty ones are considered a wonderful find. 


Show Us Your "Ding" Merch

DDWS volunteer Robin Fidler sent us this picture of their granddaughter, Goldie, modeling manatee doodlepants in Los Angeles, California, from the Nature Store. For a chance to be highlighted in "Ding" on the Wing, send in a photo of yourself wearing your "Ding" merch to April Boehnen


Natural Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder


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.


It's so true: Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. If you’ve spent any time on Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers Beach, or any of Southwest Florida following the extensive damages from Hurricane Ian, this may ring especially true.


Brown, bare branches replace normally lush, green mangroves. A once perfectly preened island is now covered in piles of rubbish. The damage is extensive and disheartening, especially when you’re used to seeing these areas in all of their beauty.


The tip this week is to challenge yourself to find beauty in the destruction. Make an intentional effort to notice signs of growth and resilience, no matter how small they may be: The new leaves shooting out from the Gumbo Limbo trees, the American White Pelicans soaring above, the sun still warming your skin just the same. Make a habit of searching for the beauty, even when it’s not immediately obvious. The closer you look, the more you will see.

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"

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