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May 4, 2023

FREE Nature Wellness Week Highlights

The second annual “Ding” Darling Nature Wellness Week continues through May 9 with free events to bring nature healing to people of all interests. Highlights include (click on events below to pre-register):


Friday, May 5: Burnin’ Bootcamp and Guided Mindful Nature Walk at Bailey Tract; Food Forest Wellness Fest at FGCU


Saturday, May 6: “Rising from the Storm: How Birds & People Built Resilience After the Storm” Lecture by Dr. Geraldine V. Oades-Sese; Bike with a Ranger; Make-and-Take Tree Beads with Artist in Residence Jacqui Roch


Sunday, May 7: Slow Birding Caravan on Wildlife Drive; Virtual Guided Mindfulness Meditation


Monday, May 8: Meditate Among the Mangroves


Tuesday, May 9: Burnin’ Bootcamp; Mindful Nature Journaling

Photo caption: Dr. Joe Blanda kicked off Wellness Week with a lecture on nature therapy.

Congratulations, Bill & Laurie Harkey!

As part of the SanCap Chamber’s annual Islands Night baseball game and awards ceremony, Chair-elect JR Ramirez announced Volunteers of the Year: our own Bill and Laurie Harkey. The Harkeys began visiting Sanibel Island in 2002, and by 2019 they became permanent residents. Since then, they have generously donated their time and money to island nonprofit organizations. At “Ding” Darling, Bill has served on the Board of Directors since 2020, currently as Vice President, and Laurie has contributed hours to staffing the front desk and planning special events.

“We believe if you can do it now, without affecting your standard or style of living, why wait until you’re gone?” says Bill. “Do it now, so you can see the impact you’re having. The need is great, and the need is now.” The impact of Bill and Laurie;s time and treasure is felt every day at the Refuge and in the conservation work being accomplished.

Advocate for Change

Florida Residents: Support Full Funding for 2023 Florida Forever Program by contacting state leaders. The Florida Forever Program is the state’s conservation land acquisition program and has been significantly underfunded for years. We need to be heard to increase this funding. Voice your opinion here.

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

New Tour Hours

Tarpon Bay Explorers has cut back its kayak tours to Wednesdays only at10 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

WoW Update: Graduating to High School

WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) last week visited its only high school of the school year, the second one it has visited since it hit the road in December 2020. In high schools, the WoW team teaches a special curriculum based on water-quality demonstrations.


At Lehigh Senior High last week, students learned about measuring fertilizer pollution in water samples collected from eight different locations. WoW educators introduced students to the concepts of measuring nitrate, nitrite, and phosphate levels, and identifying the presence of aerobic bacteria. Through the lab station, the students gained knowledge on how fertilizer pollution can contribute to red tide and affect the environment and human health.


Donate today to support the upkeep and staffing for WoW. 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.

Photo caption:  WoW Intern Diana Iglesias and Lee County School District shared educator John Bailey set up water-quality demonstrations.

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:  

  • Hurricane evacuation zones for Lee County
  • City of Sanibel Contact Phone Numbers
  • Protection for historic coastal properties could be gutted under Florida bill
  • Boaters want the Punta Rassa Ramp back
  • How the Florida Extension Disaster Education Network helps people and communities during a natural disaster like Hurricane Ian
  • Sanibel's recovery efforts seven months after Hurricane Ian
  • Dead vegetation post Ian increasing fire danger on Sanibel
  • Sanibel island vacationer shares uplifting message on Facebook
  • Captiva library reopens with summer seasonal hours
  • Island county first responders to receive Phoenix Award
  • House "jacking" on Sanibel
  • Why property insurance premiums are so high in SWFL
  • The cost, stakes and logistics of repairing damage to SWFL beaches
  • Cleaning up debris from SWFL waterways after Hurricane Ian
  • How prescribed burns help maintain, protect SWFL's environment
  • Fort Myers Yacht Basin residents get heave-ho as developers take helm
  • Southwest Florida airports have no plans to reduce carbon footprint
  • Central Florida lakes, rivers face more algae blooms in warming world
  • Historic UN Water Conference Concludes With New Cross-Sector Global Momentum, but Calls Emerge for More Binding Commitments
  • Seaweed blob stretching from West Africa to Gulf of Mexico reaches FL beaches
  • Deadly Heat Waves Fueled by Climate Change Threaten Seniors
  • NOAA offers advice for hurricane preparedness week
  • Governor announces $100 million award for impacted coastal communities through grant program
  • What is a Cypress Dome?
  • Marine biologist fights to save coral reefs
  • How pollution from nutrients threatens our local waterways
  • Florida lawmakers eye ban on fertilizer use restrictions
  • Task force details prescribed burn plan, offers tips
  • Sea turtle nesting season in Southwest Florida begins
  • NOAA upgrades model to improve storm surge forecasting
  • Fired: Caloosahatchee reservoir contractor out; what to know
  • Habitat for Humanity to partner with FEMA on temporary housing for Ian survivors
  • Groups to sue federal officials over manatee protection

Hurricane Recovery Donation

Islander David Finkelstein and his wife wanted to do something to help the nonprofits impacted by the Hurricane Ian. Shortly after the storm, David contacted his friend with One Chaptr in North Carolina to help design and print a T-shirt they could sell where 100% of the proceeds went to support the nonprofits. He recently stopped by the Refuge to deliver on his promise and has been doing the same with a number of others, including SCCF and CROW. 


“This island would not be what it is without the nonprofits and their professional staffs,” David said. “They help make the island what it is – a wonderful place to live and visit. We are proud to have been able to help in this way”.

Photograph: Left to Right: DDWS Assoc. Exec. Director, Ann-Marie Wildman; Exec. Director Birgie Miller Gresham, David Findelstein and Ranger Toni Westland.

Refuge Programming & Events


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

Artist in Residence Jacqui Roch displays Refuge-inspired works in the Visitor & Education Center.

Wellness Tip


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.

A Future Self-journal


May is National Mental Health Month and we honor the occasion with the Refuge Wellness Week through May 9.


This week’s wellness tip, mental health edition: Find a physical space, such as a journal or notebook, to write daily to your “future self.” The practice is simple: For 10 minutes, once a day, write to the future version of yourself any hopes, desires, doubts, inspiration, or gratitude you feel. Be kind towards yourself and curious about what your future self needs.


The idea is, by making a daily practice of writing to your future self, you can connect deeper to your true desires, motivations, and emotions. By befriending ourselves and keeping in touch with the future version, we cultivate a more meaningful relationship to ourselves, thus pacing the way for deeper and more meaningful relationships with those around us. 

"Ding" Darling & Doc Ford's 2023 Tarpon Tournament

Thank you to our sponsors

Title Sponsor: Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille

Champion Sponsors: Gretchen Banks, Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, The Szymanczyk Family

Premiere Sponsor: Bass Pro ShopsThe Historic Bait Box

Presenting Sponsors: Two Lane Lager, Captiva Divas, David & Judy Baum, Bill & Laurie Harkey

Platinum Sponsors: Captain Shawn Kelly Fishing ChartersSanibel Captiva Community BankCustom Tees Now, Organized Chaos, Whitney's Bait & TackleDiversified Yacht ServicesHighTower Advisors - Fort Myers

Gold Sponsors: Anisa JewelryMabry BrothersBay MarineOn IslandCaptain Matt Mitchell's Fishing ChartersJensen's Marina & CottagesTrophy Case of Fort MyersYETIRS Walsh Landscaping & DesignFort Myers MarineMilestone AuctionsCongress Jewelers

Silver Sponsors: Peter & Barb RogersCaptiva CruisesLaw Office of Janet M. Strickland

Wildlife Sightings & Tides

This rare bird and bucket-list sighting for many birders was spotted outside of the Visitor & Education Center this week. Mangrove Cuckoos are secretive birds that hide in dense, tangled mangrove forests.

Click HERE to see this week's wildlife sightings.

Photo by Ranger Jess

If you have taken any beautiful, interesting, or just plain goofy photos at the Refuge, send them to the Bill and Laurie Harkey Development and Communications Intern Ali Reece for a chance to be featured in upcoming newsletters.

These are just snapshots of some of the things taking place at your Wildlife Refuge. Please check our website to learn more!


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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