Sanibel is a city on Sanibel Island located near Cape Coral-Fort Myers area, with a population of 6,741 residents and during the Winter, the population reaches 18,000. Sanibel is a barrier island – a collection of sand on the leeward side of the more solid coral-rock of Pine Island.
Both Sanibel and Captiva are barrier islands about 20 miles southwest of Fort Myers. Sanibel is about 12 miles long and 3 miles wide. Captiva is 4 miles long and one-half mile wide.
Due to easy causeway access, Sanibel is a popular tourist destination known for its shell beaches and wildlife refuges. More than half of the island is made up of wildlife refuges, the largest being J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Sanibel and Captiva are comprised of 15 miles of beaches, 22 miles of bike paths, have 50 types of local native fish, 230 types of birds and 250 types of shells.
Sanibel and Captiva are two of the best places to collect sea shells in the world. So many shells wash up on shore due to the islands’ east-west orientation on a large plateau that extends out into the Gulf of Mexico for miles. The plateau acts as a shelf for seashells to gather.
The islands were first settled 12,000 years ago by nomadic Indians, ancestors of the Calusa Indians and Pirates Lafitte, Blackbeard, Black Caesar, and Gasparilla are all said to have and made camps on Sanibel and Captiva.
Gasparilla (Jose Gaspar) was a pirate for 38 years and attacked more than 400 ships in the Gulf. His main camp was located near Charlotte Harbor, which is Ft. Myers today. He took women from wealthy families and held them captive for ransom on the island of Captiva in the late 1700s/early 1800s, which is how Captiva got its name.