STILL GOING SANIBEL STRONG August 04 2023, 0 Comments
Hard to believe, but it’s been just a shade over ten months since Hurricane Ian came roaring through the isle of Sanibel and surrounding areas. Since then, for those of us living here, it’s been flat-out weird in a lot of different ways. In this write-up, we’ll try and break down happenings that may be of interest and also, to assist in planning future trips to the island in the months and years that lie ahead. In short, there has never been a better time to visit Sanibel in many respects.
Tremendous strides have been made to date, but there is a ways to go in getting back to where Sanibel was prior to the storm. The biggest sense of urgency it seems, is to get more accommodations (rooms) restored and up-and-running so visitors have somewhere to stay on the island. Until then, there will be limited restaurants and other retail shops open until there is enough traffic to support them. Those entities that are open are pretty much being supported by the locals, like ourselves.
The Main Look (Ambience)
There still is a fair amount of grayness in terms of anything propagated by Mother Nature. Accentuating this look is the fact there was very little precipitation this Spring. Now that we are in our rainy season, the green-up of vegetation has been significant. Just in the last 6-8 weeks, the island has come a long way toward creating a restored sense of lushness and “islandy” feel.
Happily, fewer homes are sporting blue tarps to cover their roofs. As each day passes, Roofing companies are catching up and supplies are becoming more readily available. The reduction in seeing these tarps will provide a more cohesive and blending-with-nature presence and feel.
While many buildings and structures remain in dilapidated states, they actually look much better because of the amount of mitigation that has occurred. Tons and tons of structural elements, fixtures and other trash have been removed from properties and roadsides. This has helped tremendously in enhancing the overall look of everything.
Many of the downed trees, smashed over vegetation and debris-clogged waterways have and continue to be cleared. While this has made for sparse appearances in some areas, again the rainy season has even gotten them greened-up a lot.
As most folks know, Periwinkle Way is the main conduit drag on the island and this is where the bulk of the commerce takes place as one wanders “up” island and ultimately up to Captiva. With so many businesses still closed or in need of repair, we need to get the look and vibrancy back with this key artery. Progress has been made with the reopening of Billy’s Bike Shop and a portion of Huxter’s Market. And, mainstay restaurants like Cielo, Mudbug’s,
Island Pizza, Tutti Pazzi and Trader’s have allowed locals to get out on the town and daily workers a place to stop for an end-of-the-day libation and bite to eat. Added to these are some damn good food trucks at Grandma Dot’s and the Blue Giraffe. And, take-out haunts such as the Pecking Order and Great White Grill are staying consistently busy. As each new outlet along Periwinkle opens, we take one energizing step forward towards attracting visitors to the island.
Whitney’s Bait & Tackle Shop deserves a special mention. Despite having their building almost totally wiped out, they are back in business. Whit and the boys are also keeping Guides like me supplied with shrimp, chum, menhaden oil and miscellaneous stuff while we rebuild our clientele. Their building was typical of most along Periwinkle. The surge from Hurricane Ian was so significant, it flooded all of their working display area. And drywall had to be torn off of the walls to prevent black mold taking hold. All of their electrical was also compromised. In recent weeks, Whit’s has been jacked-up almost five feet in the air so new concrete columns can be laid and electrical conduit can be more easily worked on. In the coming weeks, when these tasks are completed, the building will be lowered onto the new columns. Despite this all happening, Whit’s constructed a temporary stairway so customers could venture up to the shop to stock-up on bait and gear.
Hotels, Condos and Other Rentals—Rooms
As mentioned, it’s almost shocking how few rental units (rooms) exist on Sanibel and Captiva right now. I have been told by a reliable source that of the 2,800 available rental spaces normally offered pre-hurricane at any time of the year, less than 200 are currently open and available to take in guests. These living spaces are the key to the future prosperity in the area. As most people are aware of, our islands are transient in nature, and our commerce relies on visitors from the United States, Canada, and elsewhere around the globe to come and enjoy our offerings.
The betting line on the street points to a gradual opening of some rental units beginning in October of this Fall and increasing slightly in numbers through the end of the year. As early as January, 2024 and moving forward, this is when it is anticipated that there will be enough rentals available to draw more measurable numbers of people back to our island. This being stated, some condo complexes are saying that the earliest they can be fully open to accept visitors is in 2025.
As a result of the hurricane, our beaches sustained significant erosion in certain areas. In some cases, it was flat-out precarious to try and walk from one area to another. Further, there was a fair amount of junk that got washed ashore, and was partially buried. From furniture and appliances to lawn implements and even boats, these items peppered our pristine beaches. Thanks to efforts of the City of Sanibel and the public works department, most of the named beaches have been restored and the junk cleared. The latter clean-up effort also came from the massive amount of volunteerism to collect and haul everything away.
Just after Ian landed and went along its way, there were rumors that our beloved icon, The Lighthouse was gone. Happily, this was debunked, and our beacon in the storm still stands. Granted, it was gingerly supported on three of its four legs. But now, a fourth leg has been added and the structure is secure. All of the buildings surrounding it, such as the lighthouse keeper’s residence, were washed away in gulf surge. At some point they may be rebuilt. Despite all of this, Lighthouse Beach has reopened and it once again is a tremendous draw for visitors and day trippers.
Turtles and Other Wildlife
There’s good news and vague news when it comes to the wildlife situation on Sanibel since Hurricane Ian. Happily, Loggerhead Sea Turtles have the most nests ever recorded. This is important because Sanibel/Captiva, and Florida in general, is regarded as the most important breeding ground in the world. It is speculated
that the increased number of nests in 2023 thus far relates to the fact that there are far fewer people who are visiting and staying on the islands since the hurricane. Sea turtles prefer dark and quiet areas in which to dig nests for hatchlings. In short, less human activity translates to more serene surroundings which turtles dig. (No pun intended).
There are other reports of other forms of wildlife that were virtually extinct before the hurricane and interestingly have now reappeared on the islands . While there is no question that some wildlife suffered during the storm, they are now gaining in strength and numbers as the recovery of the islands ecological health continues to increase. The rainy season is also starting to replenish critical fresh water supplies which were compromised with the storm surge.
Fishing, especially in near Gulf and inland areas around Pine Island Sound just keeps getting better and better. Most reports suggest that fish seem to be less impacted by hurricanes compared to wildlife in general. That’s probably because in this area they live in salt water so they are least impacted by storm surges on land. For some species such Snook, Redfish and Mangrove Snapper, the mangrove trees are one of their favorite haunts. With many of those being damaged, they simply have just moved around into other areas where there was less damage. And now, ten months later, they already are moving back to some of their favorite haunts. Overall, whether on the Flats or in the back country, action as been brisk and record numbers of fish are being caught. It’s important to note because there are fewer people in the area, there is obviously less pressure on fishing in general. Add to this is the fact the Florida Department of Natural Resources has instituted dramatically reduced bag limits for most species of fish. Our fishery is simply one of the best in the world and another big reason why people flock to Sanibel.
Fall’s a Comin’ and Winter is Just Around the Corner
Time certainly doesn’t stand still and it’s hard to believe August is upon us. Already, many of you are getting your kids of all ages organized for school. At the same time, you’re mentally getting ready to shift gears for the “Now I gotta get back to dialing it up at work”. This being said, and to keep everything in perspective, it’s also time to think about making plans for this Fall, the Holidays and getting the Hell out of Dodge next Winter and early Spring. That’s where Sanibel and Captiva once again come back into play. Even though accommodations will be tight, there couldn’t be a more perfect time to visit the area. Crowds will be light and the beaches and restaurants are yours anytime. As one local islander recently put it, “Sanibel right now is like it was in the ’70’s.” (That be the 1970’s when the island hadn’t really been discovered and was as laid back and natural as it could ever get.)
It’s never a surprise when I talk to so many friends and guests, they all reminisce on their best and most nostalgic get-aways. Always it centers around just hanging with close friends and/or family in a laid back non-chaotic location.
Sanibel is the answer folks, more so than ever.
And Don’t Forget Hey Mon Gear For Holiday Gift Giving
It’s never to early to think about some fun and easy gifts for the Holidays, What better way to get into the spirit of the islands than scoring on some Hey Mon gear. Our long sleeve hoody bait shirts are already a hit with many to wear solo or to combine with other layered clothing. Hey Mon high quality meshed hats and visors have also been very popular. Get ‘em while there still in stock and be set for the Holidays. Those who receive them will thank you profusely, Mon!
Contact email@example.com or text her at 612-867-5366 with your order. We can take payment via Zelle, Venmo and PayPal. And, there are sizes to fit everyone if you order early.
Hey Mon Long Sleeve Hoodies — $48 - Includes shipping!
Hey Mon Trucker-style Meshed Hats — $20.00 - Includes shipping!
Hey Mon Visors — $19.00 - Includes shipping!
Hope to see you soon on Sanibel. Your beach chair and a cold one will be waiting for you.