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April 13, 2023

Tram Service Restarts

On Tuesday, April 4, “Ding” Darling opened the gate to Wildlife Drive for the first time since Hurricane Ian. The “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center and Bailey Tract also reopened that day. This week, Tarpon Bay Explorers’ narrated tram tours resumed. Current schedule is Tuesday and Thursday 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
  • Visitor & Education Center and the Refuge Nature Store - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday
  • 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.

Watch a clip from the local PBS station, WGCU, about the Refuge reopening.

April 22: ‘Ding’ Darling Day Conservation Carnival

The Refuge celebrates its 34th annual “Ding” Darling Day jointly with Earth Day at Lakes Park in Fort Myers Sunday, April 22. The Refuge and DDWS have planned a full day of Conservation Carnival and nature activities from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


More than 20 local conservation non-profits will be participating to engage visitors with information and carnival games where they can earn prizes. Gamers can earn a free mini ice cream cone, plus READ MORE


DDWS seeks sponsors for the event, which will be highly publicized throughout the Southwest Florida area. Learn more or contact April Boehnen for information. 

See flyer. “Celebrity Dunk Tank” is among the carnival activities.

May 3-9: Save the Date for Wellness Week 2023

As part of National Mental Health Month in May, the Refuge, with support from DDWS, has announced Wellness Week 2023. The second annual event takes place May 3 through 9 at Refuge venues and throughout the community, including Lakes Park and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Fort Myers.


Highlights of the week will range from nature-healing lectures by nationally noted speakers and a Food Forest Wellness Fest at FGCU, to Mindfulness Walks on Wildlife Drive and Boot Camp. Guest lecturers include Dr. Geraldine Oades-Sese, child resilience psychologist; and Dr. Joe Blanda, healing-through-nature advocate.


“Wellness Week makes that connection between READ MORE

Dr. Geraldine Oades-Sese

Dr. Joseph Blanda

Winning cartoons are on display in the Visitor & Education Center.

Elementary Schools Cartoon Contest

Annual environmental cartoon contests are a “Ding” Darling tradition in local elementary schools, honoring the legacy of the Refuge’s namesake, a Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist of the early 20th century. This year’s hurricane interference decreased the number of schools, but not the quality of entries. Patriot Elementary in Cape Coral and The Sanibel School participated. A hurricane miracle story, The Sanibel School entries survived the hurricane and the school’s closing for more than four months. Staff discovered them unharmed when the school reopened in February. Congratulations to winners and all participants.


Patriot Winners: 1st place Ochun Lopez, 2nd place Karolina Machado, 3rd place Brody Howdyshell

Sanibel Winners; 1st place Reagan Gould, 2nd place Grant Maddell, 3rd place Sofia Bober

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 road to recovery.


We congratulate the Breeze Newspaper group of the Island Reporter, Sanibel-Captiva Islander, and Captiva Current upon publishing its first print edition since the hurricane on Wednesday, April 5. Look for copies weekly at locations throughout the islands.


The Islander-Reporter’s Sanibel Island office in Village Shops was inundated by flood waters, forcing the local team to go mostly mobile to serve readers and businesses until restoration efforts are complete.


“The islands never left us, and we never left the islands,” said Advertising Sales Executive Mark Martens. “We carried on with our digital edition of the paper each week, bringing continuous news coverage.”


The publisher has committed to continuing the free digital service. Those wishing to subscribe to the print edition can click on “Store” on the island papers’ website or call 239-574-1936.


“The Islander has always been a huge supporter of ‘Ding’ Darling, making special efforts to cover our news by coordinating weekly with our ‘Ding’ on the Wing e-bulletin and DDWS staff,” said DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller.


“As part of a sanctuary island, the Refuge plays an integral role by protecting habitat for endangered and threatened species and providing recreational opportunities for locals and visitors,” said Editor Tiffany Repecki. “The programming offered at the Refuge and through its community outreach is educational and entertaining, and it cultivates a love for nature.”

Photo caption: Tiffany and Mark with the September 28 and April 5 editions — the last print issue before Ian and the first after.

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

May 3: Islands Night

“Ding” Darling and Tarpon Bay Explorers are sponsoring this year’s Islands Night at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. Celebrating 30 years of the island tradition, Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce has set the 2023 date for Wednesday, May 3. Tickets to the festivities and game – the Mighty Mussels vs. the Dunedin Blue Jays – are free and available for pickup at the Refuge Nature Store, open Saturday through Thursday in the “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center. Look for us on Islands Night!

Artist in Residence Exhibition

With the reopening of the Refuge Visitor & Education Center on April 4, a 30-piece mini-exhibition of Artist-in-Residence Jacqui Roch’s work debuted, featuring her Refuge-inspired work. The free-admission exhibition will be on display through April during normal Visitor & Education Center hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday through Thursday

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 City of Sanibel reopened Turner Beach Access on Captiva on April 7.
  • Captiva recovery from hurricane update
  • Swallow-tailed Kites return to Sanibel after hurricane
  • Coral reef near Fort Myers Beach shows Gulf rebounding from Ian.
  • Homeowners get lowball insurance offers for Ian damage: Is the system failing them?
  • The Guessing Game: Who decides what stays and what goes in your Hurricane Ian-damaged home?
  • Floridians could pay more for the next big storm.
  • More insurance villages opening for policyholders to meet face-to-face with their insurance representatives.
  • Life after Hurricane Ian: A firsthand look at Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel's recovery
  • Three island resorts under new management
  • Florida property insurance rates set to jump up to 60%.
  • CROW rehab team back on Sanibel, never stopped helping wildlife after Ian
  • Florida residents urged to claim Hurricane Ian damages on their tax returns.
  • Nonprofit provides Sanibel residents with affordable housing after Hurricane Ian.
  • Three island resorts under new managment
  • Punta Rassa condos still unlivable six months after Hurricane Ian.
  • Fort Myers residents win block on bid to level mangroves to built homes.
  • Outdoor industry unifies for Everglades restoration funding.
  • Floridian's Guide to Algae
  • As Florida’s legislative session begins today, here are the water bills being watched.
  • Here’s what happened when a bald eagle nest in Pasco County went missing.
  • World’s ocean surface temperature hits record high.
  • Why do allergies seem more intense?
  • Boaters urged to be cautious due to missing Manatee Zone signs.
  • Lee and Collier shorebirds are nesting along coast, expect tiny birds.
  • Seas have drastically risen along southern U.S. coast in past decade.
  • The crucial role gopher tortoises play in our ecosystems & the threats they face from humans.
  • What is the difference between land cover and land use and how this can be used to assess impacts?
  • Gulf of Mexico sea levels are rapidly rising. 
  • Scientists discover a new tool for coral reef disease relief.
  • Your Red Tide Guide: What are the Health Risks?
  • Understanding how mangroves defend the SWFL coastline
  • Rising groundwater threatens clean air and water across the US.
  • Is seafood safe to eat with Red Tide article

Looking for Interns

The Refuge and DDWS are calling for intern applications to fill the following positions for fall:


Philanthropy (DDWS)

WoW (Wildlife on Wheels) Education

Visitor Services

Environmental Education


Visit our internships page for more information.

Refuge interns help with education, visitor services, and philanthropic efforts.

Refuge Programming & Events


  • The Nature Store pops up at the Rachel Pierce Art Gallery marketplace from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. most Fridays and other select days through April.

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

  • Celebrate Islands Night baseball at Hammond Stadium along with “Ding” Darling on May 3. Tickets are available free-of-charge at the Refuge Nature Store

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 .

Laila Walzer shared this photo from a Sanibel beach pre-Ian.

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.

Combine Nature with Creativity

Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment – allowing yourself to engage fully with the here and now. Mindfulness often can be a lovely side-effect that occurs when you spend undivided time and attention on something that you love doing, such as listening to music or exercising. One of the simplest ways to practice mindfulness is by engaging with a craft or creation. When you are in the creation process, the rest of the world melts away.

This week’s tip: Engage in a mindful, creative task like journaling or painting, and do it outside. Allow the sounds around you to keep you grounded and at peace, and give yourself permission to lose track of time. With nowhere else to be and no one else to be pleasing, allow this time to be just for you. Take note of how you feel before and after your outdoor nature-creation process: Do you feel any softer or more focused?


Wildlife Sightings & Tides

The reopening of the Refuge means wildlife sightings are back, including Black-Necked Stilts foraging for tiny aquatic prey at Bailey Tract.

Click HERE to see this week's wildlife sightings.

Photo by Rebecca Clemens

If you have taken any beautiful, interesting, or just plain goofy photos at the Refuge, send them to 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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