How is Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge after Hurricane Ian? (Photos)

J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Sanibel Island, Florida was hit with a devastating blow when Hurricane Ian swept through on September 28, 2022.  All refuge lands and waters are currently closed.

Like the rest of the island, most of the vegetation turned brown and looked quite dead, but things are now greening up, sprouting, and coming back to life! Wildlife such as osprey, tortoises and manatees are starting to be spotted in the area as well, which is incredibly good news! 

Here are some photos and videos from Ding Darling after Ian. Things may look a little bleak now, but nature is resilient and will come back more beautiful than ever!

UPDATE: Ding Darling is reopening April 4, 2023!

The Entrance  to J.N. "Ding" Darling after Ian

Ding Darling entrance sign after Ian

Photo credit: Mark J. Heiman 

The Entrance to the Ding Darling Boardwalk after Ian

Ding Darling entrance after Ian

Photo credit: Mark J. Heiman 

The Road through Ding Darling

"The bridge to our community is gone so we go through the exit end of Ding Darling to access our home. We saw Manatees on Friday!" ~ Mark J. Heiman

Ding darling road washed out Ian

Photo credit: Mark J. Heiman 

Wildlife Spotted in J.N. "Ding" Darling Refuge after Ian

Here are some photos of the wildlife spotted in the refuge after Ian. I hope to be adding  more as I find them! 

Pelican in Ding Darling Wildlife Sanctuary after Ian
ding darling pelican sanibel Ian recovery

Gopher Tortoise at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge after Ian
tortoise after Ian Sanibel ding darling

More fun signs of life!

Raccoon Tracks
ding darling bird tracks after Ian
Mangrove Crabs
Ding Darling Refuge after Ian mangrove crabs
Many Resident Birds Spotted at Ding Darling after Ian
Ding Darling Refuge after Ian
Ding Darling Refuge after Ian birds
white pelicans ding darling after Ian

White pelicans at Ding Darling Refuge after Ian

Video Footage of  J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge After Ian

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society shared this wonderful video taken by rangers of the refuge after Ian to keep us all updated on how the wildlife survived. As you can see in the video, a lot of wildlife were seen, including anhinga, bald eagles, egrets, herons, spoonbills, a bobcat, a raccoon mother with her baby, a gopher tortoise, manatees and dolphins, mangrove tree crabs.

Other signs of life were seen as well, such as coyote tracks and alligator drags.

Lots of Beautiful White Pelicans after Ian!

Ding Darling Ian Update on Dec. 6, 2022:


The damage to the Wildlife Drive due to Hurricane Ian is extensive along the 4-mile one-way road. Safety is the limiting factor for us to reopen the Wildlife Drive to the public. Plans are to add fill and rebuild the sides of the road where there was significant erosion of the levee. The birding platform approaching water control structure 2 (WCS2) is destroyed, the mangrove overlook also suffered significant damage from which will need to be secured, and boardwalk trails (Indigo trail, & Calusa Shell Mound) need to be cleared and assessed for safety. Crews are being assembled to work in these projects.

Ding Darling wildlife refuge after Ian
Ding Darling wildlife refuge after Ian
Ding Darling wildlife refuge after Ian
Ding Darling wildlife refuge after Ian
Ding Darling wildlife refuge after Ian update
Ding Darling wildlife refuge after Ian
Ding Darling wildlife refuge after Ian
Ding Darling wildlife refuge after Ian

Tarpon Bay Explorers will be reopening after Ian!

Great news from Tarpon Bay Explorers:

"With an optimistic (but no guarantee) timeline, we hope to open sometime during February [2023]!

Hurricane Ian caused extensive damage to a variety of equipment and as a result, we will only have certain rentals and tours available during limited days throughout the week. We apologize for a vague timeline, but we are working with "Ding" Rangers and staff to ensure that the site's safety concerns are addressed & completed before visitors are allowed to return to enjoy Tarpon Bay. 

Please also understand if this timeline is postponed. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Instagram accounts for further updates and we can't wait to see you all soon!"

Tarpon bay explorers ding darling open after Ian
Tarpon bay explorers sanibel ding darling hurricane Ian open

Tarpon Bay Explorers on Tarpon Bay in Ding Darling Refuge after Ian

J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge Photos Before Ian

I am sure it won't be long before Ding Darling and its spectacular wildlife are back to their incredible beauty once again!

Roseate Spoonbill 
Keith Carver roseate spoonbill

Photo credit: Keith Carver

Tri-colored Heron
tricolored heron rebecca clemens

Photo credit: Rebecca Clemens

American Alligator
alligator ding darling sanibel

Photo credit: Frank Brinker

Osprey & Speckled Trout
osprey fish

osprey carrying a speckled trout

Reddish Egret
reddish egret steve hilger

Photo credit: Steve Hilger

Roseate Spoonbill

Manatee frolicking at Ding Darling before Ian

This video was taken before Hurricane Ian, but manatees HAVE been spotted at Ding Darling Refuge since Ian. Can't wait to see them again in person!

More photos of the recovery of the beautiful plant and animal life on Sanibel 

To see more photos of how the plant and animal life are recovering on Sanibel after Ian, check out my post Signs of LIFE on Sanibel Island after Hurricane Ian

Support J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge Recovery Efforts

Support Ding Darling's recovery by sending a donation or shopping from their online gift shop! Below are just a few of the super cute t-shirts and gift items available!

ding darling shop t shirt
Ding darling sanibel shop tea towel
Florida map paper towels ding darling
ding darling coasters Ian relief

More about J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge

J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel, is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order creating the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945 for the purpose of and in 1967 was renamed in honor of Jay Norwood Darling. It is world famous for spectacular migratory bird populations. 

Map of Ding Darling Refuge

I'll have to say, it is pretty sad to see all of those "temporarily closed" tags on the Sanibel map, but they will recover and one day we will get to return to our favorite place once again!

ding darling wildlife refuge map

Facebook page:
Address: 1 Wildlife DriveSanibel, FL33957
Phone: (239) 472-1100

Is Ding Darling Refuge Open after Ian?

Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge will be reopening on April 4, 2023.

Share your Stories, Photos, Updates about your Sanibel Business, & Volunteer Opportunities

If you have a personal story about the hurricane, and/or photos or videos of the damage and recovery efforts that you'd like to share on this site, please submit them HERE. I would also like to know about volunteer opportunities so I can share them with others. 
If you have a business on SanCap, we would also love to stay updated on your recovery progress. Just let us know HERE!

Sanibel Online Shopping Directory

Help support Ding Darling in its recovery efforts as well as other Sanibel businesses by shopping from the Sanibel Online Shopping Directory! What a great way to show love to your favorite island! ❤️‍🩹


  1. Leilani

    we have a small piece of paradise in Periwinkle park. Sanibel was my serenity, my place I came to slow down, smell that salt water and sit quietly watching for any and ALL the spectacular wildlife on Sanibel. It was a place I could talk to strangers and feel they were old friends. We are from Iowa and have a “connection” with Ding Darling. In fact before Ian we had an original illustration of Dings that was a communication piece framed and hanging in our livingroom at our beach cottage. It grieves me to have lost this, but I will keep searching – hope keeps me going. Maybe I will find another and hang it where our once cottage walls stood. We will rebuild, we will make more friends and we will survive because we are SANIBEL STRONG!!

    • Paula Ramm

      Oh, Leilani, I can totally relate to all you said about what you love about Sanibel. I heard one person rhetorically ask, “Is it possible to grieve a place?” and of course the answer we’ve all found is “Yes!” But we are staying strong and keeping HOPE! 💜

  2. Lawrence ford

    Please keep us updated on Sanibel. We have been going for 30 years staying at pointe santo.

  3. Robert Palmer

    How is the building and contents?
    All those beautiful decoys??


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