Saturday, November 15, 2008

American Beauty on Sanibel and Captiva

Arriving home, I am thankful for the beauty of where we live year round and even more appreciative of our Sanibel retreat.

Although I have traveled to many continents and found beauty on them all, Sanibel and Captiva are iconic of America in their particular brand of beauty. The preservation of these islands despite the over-development of most of Florida and much of the USA is something worth evaluating as well as appreciating.

Among barrier islands, Sanibel and Captiva are unique. Their natural features, together with a climate that is subtropical in summer and temperate in winter, create unparalleled habitat for a diversity of birds, reptiles, mammals and aquatic life.

Sanibel is Southwest Florida’s only barrier island with a significant southern exposure. It formed from a lobe extending from Captiva. Along its south-facing shores, the currents of the Gulf of Mexico deposit countless shells with every tide. Sanibel is also Southwest Florida’s only remaining double-barrier island, in which two major sets of ridges catch rains to produce an extensive system of interior freshwater. Just beneath the surface, a rain-fed freshwater lens protects the interior wetlands from saltwater intrusion.

Vegetation is luxuriant. On the ridges, cabbage palm, strangler fig, gumbo limbo, wax myrtle, wild coffee and a host of indigenous shrubs and trees flourish. In the lower swales, sawgrass, spartina grass, leather ferns, sedges and purslanes dominate.

Captiva, with a high backbone of a ridge and rich with tropical growth, is the older of the two islands. Much of Sanibel was farmed in the 1880’s with crops of peppers, tomatoes, citrus, squash and melons. Forty families had settled the islands by 1890. Salty soil, as a result of storm overwashes, caused a shift to more saline-tolerant citrus by the 1920’s.

But the natural beauty of Sanibel and Captiva could have easily been lost or severely compromised were it not for a vision and commitment on the part of those entrusted with their care.

After months of public meetings in 1995 and 1996, the citizens of Sanibel reaffirmed their commitment to preservation of natural resources by adopting a vision statement that, in part, follows:

Sanibel is and shall remain a barrier island sanctuary, one in which a diverse population lives in harmony with the island’s wildlife and natural habitats. The Sanibel community must be vigilant in the protection and enhancement of its sanctuary characteristics.

The City of Sanibel will resist pressures to accommodate increased development and redevelopment that are inconsistent with the Sanibel Plan, including the vision statement. The City will guard against and, where advisable, oppose human activities in other jurisdictions that might harm the island’s sensitive habitats, including the island’s surrounding aquatic ecosystems.

Sanibel is and shall remain a small town community whose members choose to live in harmony with one another and with nature, creating a human settlement distinguished by its diversity, beauty, uniqueness, character and stewardship. The Sanibel community recognizes that its attractiveness to visitors is due to the islands quality as sanctuary and as community. The City of Sanibel will welcome visitors who are drawn by, and respectful of, these qualities; it will resist pressures to accommodate visitor attractions and activities that compromise these qualities.

Where I live is quite lovely. Where I play is even lovlier. The difference is in the intent as well as content. And both, in different ways, reflect ideals in American beauty. The former has created an emphasis on the manmade and the second has as its purpose conserving what God has created. I feel very fortunate to call both environments "home".

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