Encountering Red Tide on Sanibel Island, Florida

Sanibel Island is one of the most dog-friendly beaches in Florida, and we could not wait to take Daisy with us to the beach. She has been on the beach in a few places we have visited so far, but we had not yet found a beach in Florida that allowed dogs. In doing research, Sanibel came up time and again, and even though it is always a trek to get there, we knew we had to make the trip.

In addition to being dog-friendly, Sanibel is known for the opportunities to find amazing shells. Unlike most of the beaches on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Sanibel is almost perpendicular to the mainland and lies east-west, rather than north-south, which apparently makes it great for catching shells. It took Bird a couple of visits to the beach to understand that shells are really cool, but now that she is in the know, we knew she would love the opportunity to find all the treasure.

Since it is a bit of trek (and we had a few stops to make along the way), we finally made it to the beach just before noon. We packed up the beach wagon we borrowed from my parents and set out to the beach with Daisy, Bird, and our lunch in tow.

As soon as we stepped foot on the beach, Will and I both noticed a slight tingle in our throats. We have both been battling allergies, and we wishfully chalked it up to that. However, almost immediately, Daisy started to do a breathing thing she typically only does when she gets overly excited (I can only describe it as a mix between a wheeze and a cough). As we got the blanket, chairs, and umbrella set up, Daisy was not settling down, and she started sneezing and coughing more and more. Will and I also started to cough. Unfortunately, we knew at this point that we were dealing with red tide.

We desperately tried to talk ourselves out of this conclusion and to settle Daisy down, but we soon started hearing other people coughing, and when Bird coughed the tiniest cough, we knew it was time to pack up and find something else to do. We hurriedly finished eating our lunch, then wrapped up our trip to the beach.

While Will packed things up, I took Bird on a quick shell searching adventure, where we did find a couple of fun shells but hardly left the immediate vicinity. It was definitely not the long beach walk along the water we had hoped for, and soon we were on our way back to the truck.

It honestly hardly seemed worth the effort when we factored in the 1/3 of the mile walk to the beach and the 1/3 of the mile walk back with Will dragging the wagon (with Daisy hitching a ride) through sand and me carrying a squirming Bird the majority of the way. Between the physical effort and the effects of the red tide, we were pretty well spent by the time we got back to the truck.

In an effort to salvage the day and the journey to get to Sanibel (including the $6 toll to cross the bridge), we decided to check out the J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. We have passed this refuge every time we have been on Sanibel but had never checked it out. However, in researching dog-friendly places on the island, this refuge was second on the list after the beaches.

While there are a couple of hikes around 2 miles in the refuge, we opted to take the 4-mile Wildlife Drive, as we knew how we were feeling after the red tide and were not sure if Daisy would be up for exerting much energy. The drive was really neat, though it was incredibly busy—we were there on the Saturday following New Years and would definitely recommend not going on a weekend.

The drive meanders through the mangroves and opens up in several places where we saw hundreds of white pelicans resting on sand bars at low tide and feasting on all the fish. It was really fun to get the binoculars out and watch the pelicans interacting, especially watching 2 spar bills and fight over a coveted fish. Bird loves looking at birds and really enjoyed pointing them out and watching them fly overhead.

Toward the end of the drive, we stopped at the Calusa Shell Mound Trail, which is a 1/3-mile boardwalk encircling ancient shell mounds with information along the way about the history of human occupation in this area that has spanned over 3,000 years. It was so interesting to read about the early human culture in this area and the sophisticated society they created, which included nobles, warriors, priests, and skilled artisans. According to the sign at the start of the trail, it was one of the few civilizations that reached this level of development without agriculture.

The refuge was an interesting stop but one I would only make again on a weekday when we would not feel pressured by the throngs of people. If you have never been into the mangroves on a boat or kayak, this drive definitely provides that experience without the need for a watercraft (though going on the water is so much better). Because Will and I have both had the opportunity to explore the mangroves on the water, I feel like we were not as taken by the sights and landscape.

By the time we finished the hike and the drive through the refuge, it was time to sit in the ever-present line of people trying to get off of the island. While we really enjoy what Sanibel has to offer, it will be hard for us to justify returning for a daytrip anytime soon. It would be an incredible place to stay for a few days to have the opportunity to really explore the island, but we ended the day feeling like we did not do a whole lot yet also felt utterly exhausted. The lingering tickle in our throats from the red tide also probably had something to do with our lackluster review of the day.

If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel, and we look forward to seeing you on our next adventure.

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