New history ex­plains the bar­rier is­lands’ preser­va­tion ethos

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The Con­ser­va­tion Story

No one knows Sani­bel and Cap­tiva like Charles LeBuff and Betty An­holt. Their com­bined cen­tury of in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory is for­mi­da­ble. Each has writ­ten highly re­spected his­to­ries of the area be­fore, but this lat­est en­deavor— Pro­tect­ing Sani­bel and Cap­tiva

Is­lands— is the first to ex­am­ine how the is­lands’ strong con­ser­va­tion ethos came to be.

“So how did it hap­pen that the res­i­dents of th­ese is­lands pur­sued the ethic of con­ser­va­tion when many Florid­i­ans, whether on is­lands or main­land, were dam­ag­ing or de­stroy­ing the very essence of what drew tourists and res­i­dents to our shores in the first place?” That is the ques­tion the au­thors set out to an­swer, and they do so not only com­pre­hen­sively and ac­cu­rately, but also with style and wit, never for­get­ting their obli­ga­tion to en­ter­tain read­ers.

The con­ser­va­tion story is told in roughly chrono­log­i­cal order, be­gin­ning with the phys­i­cal forces that shaped the is­lands into some­thing worth pro­tect­ing. It then ex­plains that the Calusa In­di­ans thrived here by un­der­stand­ing the ge­og­ra­phy so well—that is, un­til the Span­ish ex­plor­ers dis­turbed this idyl­lic life.

As con­trol of Florida switched from Span­ish to Bri­tish, back to Span­ish, and fi­nally to the still-young United States, de­vel­op­ment pres­sures were al­ready build­ing in the penin­sula. Land grants were be­ing freely dis­trib­uted, and Sani­bel was tar­geted for de­vel­op­ment as early as 1832.

That par­tic­u­lar de­vel­op­ment didn’t hap­pen, but through the next cen­tury, the pres­sure was on to sell pieces of par­adise.

For­tu­itous vis­its to Sani­bel and Cap­tiva by im­por­tant con­ser­va­tion­ists of the day got the ball rolling in fa­vor of pre­serv­ing par­adise. Fore­most among th­ese was J.N. “Ding” Dar­ling, whose recog­ni­tion of the value of Sani­bel’s nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment led to the estab­lish­ment of a state wildlife refuge in 1939. A na­tional wildlife refuge fol­lowed in 1945. His early ef­forts to pre­serve the is­land set the tone for the con­ser­va­tion mind­set that would pre­vail for many years to come.

LeBuff and An­holt tell the story in a com­pelling way, trac­ing the con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of the refuge, how that led to the cre­ation of the Sani­bel-Cap­tiva Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion and ul­ti­mately to the in­cor­po­ra­tion of the City of Sani­bel to take con­trol of its own des­tiny. They also give credit to other lo­cal con­ser­va­tion ef­forts such as the Sani­bel-Cap­tiva Audubon So­ci­ety, Clinic for Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of Wildlife, Sani­bel-Cap­tiva Shell Club, and In­ter­na­tional Osprey Foun­da­tion.

It’s all ef­fi­ciently laid out in 200-plus p ages, com­plete with a fas­ci­nat­ing ar­ray of his­tor­i­cal pho­tos.

Pro­tect­ing Sani­bel and Cap­tiva Is­lands should be re­quired read­ing for all res­i­dents and vis­i­tors.


While LeBuff and An­holt’s history touches upon the brief reign of Punta Rassa as a premier tar­pon fish­ing des­ti­na­tion, a book by lo­cal his­to­rian Thomas Hall, Epic Fires of Fort My­ers, goes into de­tail about Punta Rassa’s Schultz Ho­tel fire in 1913 and how it ceded con­trol of tar­pon fish­ing in the area to nearby Boca Grande. This was the sec­ond ho­tel lost to fire by owner Ge­orge Schultz. The first was the Tar­pon House, also on Punta Rassa, which burned down in 1906.

In ad­di­tion to th­ese two sig­nif­i­cant fires, Hall lists three oth­ers be­tween 1886 and 1913 that in­flu­enced the de­vel­op­ment of Fort My­ers. They were the Fort My­ers Academy school­house, which Hall writes led to the area leav­ing Mon­roe County and form­ing its own county, to be named for Robert E. Lee; the Bass house fire, which re­sulted in for­ma­tion of the area’s first vol­un­teer fire depart­ment; and a down­town Fort My­ers fire in 1907 that de­stroyed one build­ing and threat­ened sev­eral oth­ers.

Fire was a fact of life at the turn of the cen­tury, but th­ese early fires forced the peo­ple of Fort My­ers to adopt mea­sures that would pro­tect their life and prop­erty.

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