It is believed that explorer Juan Ponce de Leon discovered 12-mile-long Sanibel Island in 1513 while searching for the fountain of youth. He named the island Santa Isybella after Queen Isabella, and centuries later, in 1884, island settlers constructed the Sanibel Island Light, otherwise known as the Sanibel Lighthouse. In modern times, the lighthouse has served as the familiar backdrop to beautiful days at the beach for residents and visitors alike.
When Hurricane Ian battered Florida’s Gulf Coast, this barrier island, home to 6,500 residents, was ravaged. Houses and apartment complexes were torn apart. Businesses, resorts and mobile home parks were flooded. Residents lost power and water. Several suffered injuries, and four deaths have been confirmed. In addition, multiple portions of the Sanibel Causeway, a series of bridges connecting the island to mainland Florida, were destroyed.
However, the iron lighthouse on the eastern end of Sanibel Island remains standing.
The Sanibel Island Light is not out of danger yet, though. Lighthouse Digest Magazine shared photos of the lighthouse before and after Ian hit on Facebook.
“KEEPERS HOUSES ARE NOW GONE. THE LIGHTHOUSE IS IN DANGER OF COLLAPSE,” wrote Lighthouse Digest Magazine in the post. “Look closely and you will notice that the bottom of one of the support legs is gone, and erosion under the other legs puts the lighthouse in a precarious position. There is also some other minor damage to the tower.”
The Fort Myers News-Press explained that no one had lived in the keeper’s quarters adjacent to the lighthouse, referenced in the post above, since the 1940s. After back-to-back hurricanes in 1947, the Coast Guard deemed the quarters too dangerous for families to live in, and they automated the light in 1949.
On Tuesday, officials announced they’d awarded a contract to repair the causeway, with the goal of opening by the end of the month. But in the meantime, the lack of road access impedes much of the cleanup and rebuilding on the island.
But the Sanibel Captiva Chamber of Commerce encouraged residents to look to the lighthouse for hope.
“Lighthouses are traditionally known as symbols of strength, resiliency, hope and security,” the organization wrote in a Facebook post with a photo of the damaged structure.
“While we are heartbroken by the devastation Hurricane Ian has caused our beloved islands, our business community is strong and resilient,” the post continued. “We are resolved to rebuild. As we navigate through these uncharted waters, let the Sanibel Lighthouse be your beacon of hope and light.”