When did the islands officially become “ special ” ? By Barbara Joy Cooley , president , Committee of the Islands , published June 24 , 2010 Just about everyone seems to acknowledge that Sanibel is special and unique . Have you ever wondered when this notion of Sanibel’s special nature began ? Teddy Roosevelt seemed to be aware of it because he first came to Sanibel and Captiva to join a fishing party in 1914 . In the 1930s , the secluded , natural setting of Sanibel and Captiva attracted famous people such as Edna St . Vincent Millay , Anne and Charles Lindbergh , and violinist Albert Spalding , among others . In 1937 , the cartoonist J . N . “ Ding ” Darling gave a speech to a large audience at a place called Fisherman’s Lodge . Historian Elinore Dormer describes this as the “ turn of the road ” for Sanibel and Captiva . In her book The Sea Shell Islands , Dormer wrote that , “ With a sense of history , The Islander of the following week bore a cover sketch by Matt Clapp of two faces , the Spirit of Captiva and the Spirit of Sanibel , between them the lighted candle , ‘ Conservation . ’ ” Official recognition of Sanibel and Captiva’s uniqueness came in 1939 , when , largely through the efforts of “ Ding ” Darling helping islanders , the Florida Legislature passed a Special Act ( Chapter 19936 ) to establish a “ Game and Fish Refuge ” encompassing the islands of Sanibel and Captiva . The Act made it illegal for anyone to “ catch , hunt , trap or take any wild game , game animals , game birds , or game fish ” except those that needed to be removed “ in order to maintain a normal biological balance . ” Original Refuge Included Entire Island Following the state designation , the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge was designated in 1945 . Its boundaries then included the southwestern part of Captiva and all of Sanibel Island . Nevertheless , Florida continued to sell off pieces of the nearly 2,000 acres of state - owned land on Sanibel for development . “ Ding ” Darling protested strongly against these sales , and tried to have a more permanent refuge established on the island . Eventually he gave up and sold his Sanibel property . That left the Sanibel - Captiva Audubon Society to take up the cause in the late 1950s . Progress was made , bit by bit . After Darling died in 1962 , the U.S . Fish and Wildlife Service and the Darling Memorial Committee worked along with the Audubon group to establish a National Preserve in 1967 . Finally the J . N . “ Ding ” Darling National Wildlife Refuge was dedicated on February 4 , 1978 . It is this legacy as a special , sanctuary island that eventually propelled Sanibel residents into incorporating as a city – to protect the island from overdevelopment . And it is why codes on Sanibel are particularly restrictive when it comes to development , to protect the natural environment and wildlife . This is what the Committee of the Islands is all about ; its mission is “ To develop and promote policies and positions designed to maintain and enhance the quality of life on the islands and to preserve their unique and natural characteristics . ”If you have stories to share about the legacy of Sanibel and Captiva as special and unique places , we encourage you to send them to the Committee of the Islands at PO Box 88 on Sanibel , 33957 , or to coti @ coti.org . For more information about the Committee of the Islands , visit www.coti.org on the web .