Remember: Sanibel is a Sanctuary for Wildlife
By Chris Lechowicz, SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director
Living on Sanibel, where conserved wildlands occupy nearly 70 percent of the island, eventually results in some unexpected animal encounters. Whether you are familiar with South Florida wildlife (both native and exotic animals) or everything you encounter is a surprise, always remember that the official Sanibel Plan defines the island as a sanctuary for native wildlife and we must do what we can to uphold this vision in our urban interface with nature.
Sanibel is truly a unique barrier island in Florida. The City of Sanibel incorporated with a mantra of living in harmony with the island’s wildlife and natural habitats, and three entities (Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and the City of Sanibel), with the help of residents and visitors, have limited development to roughly one-third of the island. Living in harmony with the great diversity of wildlife species Sanibel has within its boundaries is essential to maintaining this “Sanibel lifestyle” that has attracted nature lovers from all over the world.
Whether you live on the island full-time, part-time, or just visit occasionally, critter encounters can be frequent. Respect for all forms of wildlife is essential for keeping this harmony in balance. For example, a small hole in someone’s electrical box for a motorized gate allowed the corn snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) pictured here to find a safe place to hide. Harmless snakes like this go in and out of places like this for refuge. If you do not like the snake living in the box, then patch the hole it uses to enter (after it is out).
Without a doubt, most homeowners, business owners, and renters on Sanibel will encounter various species on a regular basis such as bobcats (Lynx rufus) or river otters (Lontra canadensis) running through their properties or a gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) foraging on some freshly sprouted grass near the roadside.
There are many things you can do to assist with the cohesion of islanders and wildlife. Make yourself knowledgeable about the local wildlife and be proactive in preventing unwanted occurrences on your property. Living in a natural place does come with its own set of obstacles that could come up such as woodpeckers (Picidae family) drilling holes in the eaves of your house, or marsh rabbits (Sylvilagus palustris) eating ornamental flowers or garden vegetables.
Snakes, such as southern black racers (Coluber constrictor priapus) and rat snakes (Pantherophis spp.), frequently enter open garages, pool cages, and sheds for cover. American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) and even an American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) could use the bank of a waterway behind your house as a basking spot. Most of these wildlife occurrences can be minimized in a non-harmful (to the species and yourself) with some prep or repair work. This is all part of living in a wildlife ecosystem and why many people choose Sanibel.
Coyotes (Canis latrans) may have found their way to Sanibel in 2011, but their presence is likely a permanent feature on the island. Just like in parts of the country with bears and wolves, residents and visitors must be aware and take the necessary precautions to protect their pets and property.
There are many other ways to get to know your wild neighbors. Volunteer with monitoring and research projects involving island wildlife—such as SCCF’s shorebird, sea turtle, and the terrestrial and freshwater turtle program.
Follow wildlife ordinances (such as keeping nighttime lighting within limits on the beach during sea turtle season) and report sightings (such as a hatched sea turtle nest or an unmarked box turtle) to the right organization, which can assist with conservation measures. (Report sea turtle issues to our SCCF Sea Turtle Hotline 978-728-3663. Report unmarked box turtles to SCCF Wildlife & Habitat Management Director Chris Lechowicz email@example.com.)
Financial support for wildlife programs, such as adopt-a-nest or for a species project specifically that you are interested in, go a long way by enabling us to buy supplies that are needed on a daily basis.