Flock of royal terns on a typical beach on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Sanibel Island

Sanibel Island is a small island in Lee County, Florida measuring 19 kilometers in length, and 4.8 kilometers across. It is located along the west side of the state, just off the coast from Fort Myers and Cape Coral. The island has a population of roughly 7,500 people. 


The island itself is what is known as a barrier island. This means it was formed out of a build up of sand along the leeward sand of the established coral-rock of nearby Pine Island. The island itself is shaped like a curved crescent and hugs Tarpon Bay pon its northern side. The Sanibel  causeway connects the island to the mainland, crossing over the intracoastal waterway. Sanibel Island  is also connected to Captiva Island over Blind Pass by way of another smaller bridge. 

Beaches In Sanibel Island

Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island
Aerial view of Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel Island.

The island has some of the most stunning beaches, full of a variety of shells, especially Sand dollars which are common here. Shells collect due to the barrier island’s proximity to the ocean shelf, which causes theshells to be washed up against the barrier, where they get stuck, eventually washing onto the island’s beaches. The east-west orientation of the island in combination with this positioning means the shells that wash along the nearby plateau are trapped here and become beach decorations.

Bowman's Beach Sanibel Island
Bowman's Beach on Sanibel Island.

Some of the most popular beaches include Lighthouse Beach, and Bowman’s Beach, although most of the island is lined with beaches.


The climate in the area is tropical and humid, with summer days often experiencing afternoon rain showers. The region is also prone to tropical storms and hurricanes, which start in June but are most common through September and October. Though the storms do not usually directly hit Florida, every 20 - 40 years there are significant storms which can cause major damage to the little island. 

Attractions Of Sanibel Island

Sanibel island lighthouse
Sanibel Island lighthouse.

Though small, Sanibel Island does have few attractions - aside from the warm waters and beaches - which pull in visitors. Sanibel houses the only dedicated shell museum in the world, known as the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. The island also has the famous Sanibel Lighthouse, at the end of a frequented fishing pier. 

Sanibel Island Wildlife

Sanibel Island
Pelicans on the beach in Sanibel Island.

There are a number of plants which grow on and around the island, including several types of palm trees. The Australian pine tree can also be found in this region, though it is not native and has some adverse effects by way of overshadowing some of the natural vegetation, and is therefore an invasive species. Other naturally found plant species, however, include mangroves, sea grapes, and sea oats. Aquatic plants include algae, and sea grasses. 

As evidenced by the presence of seashells on the Gulf side of the island, many shell fish and sea creatures live just off shore. These include species of coquinas, whelks, scallops, mollusks and sand dollars.

Bird species that thrive here include bald eagles, roseate spoonbill, pelicans, sandpipers, terns, seagulls, herons, egrets, and anhingas. There was also an American alligator known to have lived in the area for some 30 odd years in the wildlife refuge, but it passed in 2010. 

Sanibel island iguana
An iguana in Sanibel Island.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation was founded in 1967 and aims to help preserve the natural landscape, plants, and animals of the island. The foundation surveys roughly 5.2 km2  of protected land. This area includes a Marine research Laboratory, and conducts the RECON (River, Estuary and Coastal Observing Network) project. The nature reserve is known as the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and it occupies some 21 km2 of land. This protected land serves as a habitat for native animals and plants, including several endangered or threatened species. 220 species of birds live in the refuge. The refuge includes an education center, and offers kayak, bike, hike and driving tours through the park six days a week. 

Sanibel Island dolphin
Dolphins in the sea off the coast of Sanibel Island.

A beautiful island off the coast of Florida, Sanibel is both an excellent vacation spot, holiday home location, and refuge for a variety of birds on the migratory flyway. From stunning shells to tropical weather, this island is an ideal place to relax and enjoy the sandy beaches and sunshine.


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