Is Sanibel Island Safe? A Guide To Staying Safe On Your Visit

Photo by Melissa Mullin on Unsplash
Photo by Melissa Mullin on Unsplash
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With its glorious weather, shell-covered beaches, and extensive nature reserve, Sanibel Island is a haven for wildlife and holidaymakers alike, but is it safe to visit? Well, the short answer is yes, Sanibel Island is not only beautiful but one of the safest places in Florida. 

Sanibel City’s crime rate is lower than 75% of American cities, and it has been named the seventh safest city in the state. But while you don’t need to be worrying about criminal activity on your vacation, there are a couple of other dangers to watch out for. 

From unfriendly wildlife to health concerns, we’ve made a list of the top safety issues to watch out for on Sanibel Island. Of course, you shouldn’t let any of them put you off a visit to this glorious barrier island, but it never hurts to be prepared! 

Is Sanibel Island Safe from Crime?

Sanibel Island comes is the seventh safest city in Florida
Photo by David von Diemar on Unsplash

Crime rates in Sanibel are extremely low. Barely any violent crimes have occurred on the island in the last 10 years, and there’s been just 1 murder since 2002. The most common crime on the island is car break-ins. Many car parks on the island, especially those near beaches, have installed cameras to combat this, but you should still take steps to protect your property. 

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  • Never leave your vehicle unlocked. 
  • Never leave valuables on display in your car. 
  • Try not to leave valuables in your car at all but take them with you. 
  • Park in designated car parks with security measures where possible. 

Aside from this, Sanibel Island is generally safe from crime, but you should still use your common sense when out and about. Behave sensibly, as you would in your hometown, be respectful of the locals, don’t flash your valuables or wander around alone at night, and exercise caution when drinking. 

Is Sanibel Island Safe from the wildlife?

There is a sizeable alligator population on Sanibel Island
Photo by Jack Kelly on Unsplash

Alligators are probably the biggest danger to be aware of on Sanibel Island. The abundance of wetlands on the island provides the perfect habitat, and the local population is sizable. Attacks on humans are not common, but they do happen, so it’s wise to be aware of the risks and take precautions to stay safe. 

Alligators are most active at dawn and dusk in the warmer months of the year. They tend to hang around the edges of canals and lakes in fresh or brackish water. So, only swim during daylight hours, be alert, don’t sit with your back to the water, and keep small children and dogs away from the water’s edge in possible alligator habitats.

If you see an Alligator, remain at a safe distance and never try to tempt it closer or feed it. Feeding alligators encourages them to hang around humans and associate people with food. This leads to more attacks and alligators being put down. The fine for feeding an alligator is $500 and up to 60 days in jail – so it’s definitely not worth it for a photo op! 

Is the marine Life safe in Sanibel Island?

Baby stingrays hand around on the shallow waters of Sanibel
Photo by Fernando Jorge on Unsplash

Sanibel Island’s location in the Gulf of Mexico is a huge part of its appeal and the reason it’s known as the seashell capital of the world. Beautiful shells from all over the gulf and the Caribbean wash up on the shores of this barrier island. But with the shells come the occasional marine danger. 

The waters around Sanibel will sometimes see an influx of jellyfish which can give a painful sting but should not cause any lasting effects. Other creatures to be aware of are the young stingrays that linger in the shallow waters around the coast. Stingrays are peaceful creatures and will only attack if threatened or surprised, such as if you step on them. So when walking in the shallows, it’s best to shuffle your feet through the sand, giving plenty of warning of your presence.

Sharks are occasionally spotted off the coast of Sanibel, and in rare cases, the beaches might be closed if a dangerous shark is seen too close to shore. So keep an eye on any warning signs at your hotel or the beaches. But don’t worry too much, since the 1950s, there have only been 8 shark incidents recorded on Sanibel Island. None of these were fatal, and strangely most of them occurred when someone accidentally stood on a shark. So maybe employ the stingray foot shuffle at all times just in case!

Is Sanibel Island Safe from Pests?

Mosquitos and midges are irritating pests on Sanibel island but are generally safe
Photo by Ekamelev on Unsplash

Some of the more irritating pests in Florida are the no-see-ums or midges. These tiny pests give bites that raise into red lumps or blisters and can itch like crazy; however, they don’t pose any real danger. 

Mosquitos are also a problem in Florida since the hot and humid climate is perfect for them. Mosquitoes can be harmful since they carry diseases such as the West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, and Chikungunya Fever, so you should take precautions to avoid them. 

Both mozzies and midges are most active at dawn and dusk and hang around still or stagnant water. Unfortunately, the abundance of wetlands on Sanibel is perfect for them, so avoiding them entirely is unlikely. Instead, cover up with long sleeves and trousers, use mosquito netting where provided, invest in some insect repellent, and bite soothing cream. Sanibel islanders swear by No No See Um Spray, which is all-natural and was invented by one of the locals.

Red tide safety

Red Tide is a phenomenon that occasionally causes Sanibel beaches to close.
Photo by Florida Guidebook on Unsplash

A strange phenomenon to watch out for on Sanibel Island is the Red Tide, microscopic particles of algae that are always present in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. They’re generally harmless, but occasionally they bloom or multiply, becoming more concentrated and giving the water a brownish-red color, hence the name. When concentrated, their toxins can kill marine life and irritate swimmers and beachgoers. 

If you come into contact with it, you might experience skin or eye irritation and mild respiratory problems. These symptoms are usually temporary. Get out of the water and rinse your skin and eyes thoroughly. If the symptoms don’t subside, seek medical advice. Also, refrain from eating any seafood caught in a red tide-affected area.

Red Tide is sometimes confused with Red Drift Algae, which resembles seaweed and occasionally appears in large quantities on the beaches of Sanibel. This seaweed is different from red tide and is not harmful. However, if left to rot on the beaches, it can cause an unpleasant smell and develop harmful bacteria. Occasionally a Sanibel beach might be closed if the presence of Red Drift Algae leads to the water becoming contaminated. 

Sun exposure is one of the biggest health dangers

Sun exposure is possible the biggest danger to the health of visitors to Sanibel.
Photo by Onela Ymeri on Unsplash

Sun exposure is one of the largest health dangers to holidaymakers on the island. Luckily there are plenty of simple ways to keep you and your family safe while still enjoying the sun on Sanibel Island. 

  • Use a sunscreen or sunblock with a high SPF factor, and remember to reapply throughout the day. 
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to protect your head, face, and neck.
  • Stay hydrated, especially if engaging in physical activity.
  • Consider sitting in the shade during peak sunshine hours.
  • Remember that the sun can be intense even if the day doesn’t feel too hot. A cool breeze can trick you into thinking otherwise. 
  • Be aware that when you’re around water, the sun’s power increases due to its reflection on the water. Invest in decent sunglasses to protect your eyes if spending a lot of time on or near the water. 

Are the waters safe in Sanibel Island?

The waters around Sanibel Island are generally safe
Photo by Philippe Murray Pietsch on Unsplash

None of the beaches on Sanibel Island have lifeguard services, so your water safety is in your own hands. Luckily, most beaches have calm, shallow, child-friendly waters, especially along the south coast. But, some areas are prone to dangerous currents and rip tides, such as Turner Beach at the north of the island, where the waters of Blind Pass surge out into the gulf. And around the Sanibel Lighthouse on the Eastern point, where swimming is discouraged due to swift currents. 

In general, you’ll find the waters of Sanibel safe if you follow a few simple rules:

  • Pay attention to the conditions and any warning signs before entering the water.
  • Always supervise children.
  • Don’t swim alone. If you must, let someone know where you’ve gone and when you’ll be back. 
  • Be careful of winds when going out on inflatables.
  • If the weather turns nasty, don’t take any risks. Stay out of the water. 

Weather safety in Sanibel Island

Florida is the lightning strike capital of the US
Photo by Annie Nyle on Unsplash

Despite Florida’s reputation as a hurricane state, they don’t often hit Sanibel Island. In the last 60 years, there have only been 4 hurricanes that impacted the island, so you shouldn’t be too concerned. However, there is a risk, so it’s good to be aware. 

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to September, but the highest risk for Florida and Sanibel is mid-august to September. If you’re holidaying during this time, check with your accommodation to see what safety precautions and procedures are in place. If you are thinking of moving to Sanibel, the responsibility lies with you to ensure your home and family are prepared. There’s plenty of information out there to help you get organized. 

Hurricanes might be rare, but summer storms are a common occurrence on Sanibel island. And since Florida is known as the lightning strike capital of the US, it’s wise to be aware of them. If a storm is on its way, stay off the beaches and out of the water. Head home and stay indoors until it has passed. 

But rest assured that authorities in Florida and Sanibel Island monitor the weather closely. If any storms or hurricanes are on their way, the local news will be reporting it, and you should get plenty of warning. Keep an eye on any information posted by your accommodation, and follow any safety or evacuation instructions they issue. 

Sanibel Island is the seashell capital of the US
Photo by Erin Caher on Unsplash

Is Sanibel Island safe to visit?

Yes, Sanibel Island is a safe place to visit. Crime levels are extremely low, and there are few natural hazards or health issues to be worried about. The biggest health risk to visitors of Sanibel Island is probably sun exposure, so be safe during the summer, cover-up, wear a hat, sit in the shade and remember to hydrate. 

What is the most dangerous animal on Sanibel Island?

The most dangerous animals on Sanibel Island are the alligators who are drawn to the island for its climate and abundance of wetlands. Sightings of alligators are common; however, attacks on humans are not. You can stay safe on Sanibel Island by being cautious around canals and lakes, not swimming at dawn or dusk, and never approaching or trying to feed any alligators you come across. 

What do I do if something goes wrong?

Sanibel has a dedicated police and fire department to call if anything goes wrong. In addition, there are medical practitioners and emergency dentists on the island and a full-service hospital 15 minutes away on the mainland. 

Several organizations monitor such things as water safety, incoming storms, and the presence of sharks. So keep an eye on the local news and pay attention to any warnings posted on beaches or in your accommodation. 

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Anita is from Wales and has been a travel addict since her first trip to Australia ten years ago. Since then she's lived and worked in Oz, New Zealand and Canada, worked many ski seasons and travelled widely through South East Asia, Morocco, India and Europe. She's a nomad, freelance writer, foodie, compulsive reader, tea addict and animal lover.