Southern Agenda

Line of Hope

When Hurricane Ian roared into Southwest Florida last September, the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge suffered major damage to both buildings and wildlife habitat. Coming back will take years of resilience—like the kind that will be on display May 19 when the “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament kicks off from the Sanibel Island waterfront. The one-day catch-and-release tournament raised over $1 million for the refuge in its first ten years. Named for a famed cartoonist and pioneering conservationist, the refuge was the site of the first recorded tarpon caught, in 1885 off Sanibel, by an angler using hook and line. Although the Doc Ford’s Sanibel location remains closed, the well-known restaurant vowed to continue the tournament. “That was a real morale boost to this community,” says Chelle Koster Walton, who works with the refuge’s Wildlife Society. “We need all the support we can muster down here.”