EIt sure can never hurt to meet a relaxed shark. Especially if the animal had every reason to lose its nerve and snap at one leg or the other. Or a forearm.

Hunter Ray Jackson goes home with all his limbs that evening. Nevertheless, the 14-year-old is unlikely to ever forget the day on the beach on Sanibel Island – or how often does a full-grown blacktip shark accidentally hang on the fishing route?

Fighting meter by meter, all the way down the pier to the beach, Hunter has not let go of the device with the predatory fish on the hook. Now the shark lies alive in the sand while the surging waves of the Gulf of Mexico wash around its two-meter-long gray body.

Source: WORLD infographic

Already more than 30 people hurriedly come to admire him. “It doesn’t matter that I don’t bring a fish for dinner,” says the young person as he beams into the cell phone cameras. Shortly afterwards, Hunter and his buddy carefully grab the animal by the fins to maneuver it back into the water – “out of respect,” as Hunter says. It takes a few tries before the shark disappears into the sea again.

Florida stereotypes don’t apply to Sanibel Island

In China, the shark fins would probably have ended up in a soup pot long ago. On Sanibel Island, however, the animals are under nature protection – as in the whole of Lee County, which also includes the neighboring island of Captiva, once separated from Sanibel by a hurricane, several other islands as well as the cities of Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

The strict requirements of the “Sanibel Comprehensive Use Plan” regulate not only fishing but also the construction of buildings. There are no restaurant or hotel chains on the 20 kilometer long and five kilometer wide island. No new house should tower over the tallest palm tree in the area.

Florida: The Gulf of Mexico washes thousands of shells on the beaches of Sanibel Island every day, as the mussel hunters wander along in a stooped position

The Gulf of Mexico washes thousands of shells on the dream beaches every day, which the mussel hunters wander along in a stooped position

Source: pa / Philippe Turp / Photononstop

The only Starbucks on Captiva existed when the laws came into effect in 1974. Advertising posters are nowhere, street lamps are not installed anywhere – after all, sea turtles are supposed to find their way to the sea at night, solely through the moonlight. The beach belongs to flora and fauna. Beach hotels have to put away their loungers every evening.

While many Florida vacationers think of adventure-oriented, party-loving cities like Miami and Orlando, time seems to stand still on Sanibel Island. The break-in rate is lower than anywhere else in America. Bicycles are replacing fat cars. After all, no air conditioning system in the world can keep up with the breeze from the Gulf of Mexico.

Show off like in the rest of the USA

In almost every way life on the islands could hardly be more alien to everyday American life. Only when it comes to eating, it seems, is still allowed to show off, as in the rest of the United States. In the “Bubble Room” on Captiva, for example, guests are served such large pieces of cake that they should allow a time buffer for consumption.

Strict building regulations apply on Sanibel Island: no new house may tower over the tallest palm tree in the area

Strict building regulations apply on Sanibel Island: no new house may tower over the tallest palm tree in the area

Source: pa / Philippe Turp / Photononstop

But physical well-being is also linked to nature conservation. The smell of fresh bratwurst wafts over the palm-lined parking lot of the Sanibel Public Library. Every Sunday around 50 local vendors offer fresh and healthy food: Herbal mixes for the BBQ, purple carrots and cabbage-sized beefsteak tomatoes, kombucha and bread, naturally gluten-free.

Jean Bear and Betsy Ventura stand behind a stand with information brochures. Both women, in their early 50s, are the organizers of this market and eight other farmers’ markets in the region. “With the stand fees, we support a different non-profit company each week that is dedicated to people or nature,” says Bear. Her favorite anecdote: “Once a man spontaneously filled out a check. The sum: $ 200,000! “

Most of the coral reefs have been destroyed

There is always reason to worry about nature underwater, as a visit to Sanibel’s shell museum shows. “To get to such mussels, manufacturers blow up entire coral reefs and kill the mollusc,” explains zoologist Leigh Gay to a visitor, pointing to her earrings with small mussels on long brass threads. The visitor stands there, embarrassed, her cheeks turning deep red. “But you couldn’t have known that,” the 29-year-old museum employee reassured her.

According to the US agency for oceanography (NOAA) (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), more than 80 percent of the reefs off Florida have already been destroyed – a fatal finding. The filigree underwater structures are habitat for millions of species and act as a natural barrier to protect the coasts from storm waves.

Florida: At the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum you can learn a lot about molluscs

You can learn a lot about molluscs at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum

Quelle: pa/NurPhoto/Creative Touch Imaging Ltd

The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, the official name of Leigh Gay’s employer, is the only house of its kind in the USA and has even made it into the bestseller “1000 Places To See Before You Die”. The aquarium romps about corals, fish and – of course – mollusks, the molluscs that carry the mussels.

The team provides information on all aspects of the life of local and global molluscs. One learns, for example, that the “house” that the mollusks seem to be dragging around with them is an integral part of their bodies – like the skeleton in humans.

Fantastic beaches on the Gulf of Mexico

It is not without reason that the museum is located on Sanibel Island: the gulf washes thousands of shells onto the dream beaches every day, as the mussel hunters hike along in a stooped position. The locals have invented their own expressions for this: “Sanibel Stoop” (Sanibal level) and “Captiva Crouch” (Captiva crutch).

Lingering whole days at the stand, paddling through the mangrove forests in a kayak, discovering more than 400 islands by boat: If you can’t relax here, then where? Just don’t think about what happened in 2010: At that time, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform caught fire and sank. Around 800 million liters of oil poured into the sea for 87 days. Even today traces of oil can be found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida, USA: More than 200 species of birds live on Sanibel Island - white pelicans can also be seen here

More than 200 species of birds live on Sanibel Island – you can also see white pelicans here

Quelle: Getty Images/imageBROKER RF/Winfried Schafer

A third of the Sanibel Islands is now under nature protection. The JN Ding Darling National Wildlife Reserve has been spread over 2,600 hectares since 1945. The state park named after the cartoonist and environmental activist includes alligators, manatees and more than 200 species of birds. In winter, the rare white pelican drops by – a popular photo opportunity.

Hunter Ray Jackson, the boy from the beach, will also keep his shark photo as a memento. Who knows if he’ll get that close to the animal again. Because, according to research reports, sharks are rarely seen, at least on the southeast coast of Florida, because water temperatures and sea levels are rising. They have meanwhile moved to deeper waters further out in the Atlantic, many nautical miles away from Sanibel.

Sunset on the Gulf of Mexico: The beaches on Sanibel Island promise absolute relaxation

Sunset on the Gulf of Mexico: The beaches on Sanibel Island promise absolute relaxation

Quelle: Getty Images/Gallo Images ROOTS /Danita Delimont

Tips and information

Getting there: Eurowings Discover will fly direct from Frankfurt to Fort Myers from March 2022. United Airlines Brings Vacationers From Frankfurt via Chicago to Southwest Florida; Delta starts from Munich.

Accommodation: From the “Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa” on Captiva, canoe tours lead through the mangrove forests (overnight stay for four people from around 230 euros). The “West Wind Island Resort” is located on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico (overnight stay for four people from around 170 euros).

Information desk: fortmyers-sanibel.com

Participation in the trip was supported by The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit.

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