Hurricane Ian: How two islands could shape Florida’s recovery


Sanibel Island and Pine Island could hardly be more different, even if residents of one can see the other across Florida’s Pine Island Sound.

Sanibel requires visitors to pay $6 just to set foot on the island and regulates what islanders can plant in their gardens. Pine Islanders once set their own boats on fire to protest a new state law seen as interfering with their independence. 

Why We Wrote This

Two Florida islands embody two radically different approaches to Hurricane Ian recovery. They speak to how Florida is evolving and how it can best adapt to the changing climate.

But how the two islands are coping with the destruction of Hurricane Ian points to much larger issues for the state. Sanibel’s regulations have helped make it more resilient, says former Mayor Porter Goss. Pine Island’s libertarian can-do spirit rebuilt a causeway in days, not weeks, and won the praise of the governor.

How Florida responds to Hurricane Ian will resonate beyond the islands. At stake is an “Old Florida” culture of independence and resourcefulness – a retreat for raconteurs, crabbers, artists, the funky and the frivolous.

“Florida is built on confidence,” says historian Gary Mormino, author of “Paradise Lost?” But as climate events rise, “a cumulation of challenges” is testing that way of life.

Tanned bare feet sticking out from a pair of loose-fitting blue Dickies, Joey Burnsed looks every bit the islander. The past few months, however, have shown another side of the lifestyle.

His usually packed charter fishing schedule blew away with Hurricane Ian. But like a true islander, he’s taken it in stride, coping with whatever challenges the day throws his way. Recently, that’s meant a new gig: steering his skiff to remote mangrove thickets on Pine Island, Florida, so cleanup crews can clear storm debris.

You could call that the Pine Island way – independent, resourceful, and a little stubborn. To some, the island is a modern-day link to “Old Florida,” a retreat for raconteurs, crabbers, artists, the funky and the frivolous.

Why We Wrote This

Two Florida islands embody two radically different approaches to Hurricane Ian recovery. They speak to how Florida is evolving and how it can best adapt to the changing climate.

But in the wake of Hurricane Ian, a decades-old question is emerging with new urgency: What will happen to the islander way of life?

Just across the sound is Sanibel Island, which has come to symbolize the “New Florida.” A $6 toll is required just to get on the island, and strict codes govern building and even what plants can be used in landscaping. When Hurricane Ian came, the damage was severe, but the island was well situated to bounce back.  



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