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Legendary pirates' dens aside, the first modern settlement on Sanibel (then spelled "Sanybel") was established by the Florida Peninsular Land Company in 1832.The colony never took off, and was abandoned by 1849.After the Sanibel causeway was built to replace the ferry in May 1963, the city was incorporated in 1974 and the residents asserted control over development by establishing the Sanibel Comprehensive Land Use Plan, helping to maintain a balance between development and preservation of the island's ecology.Due to easy causeway access, Sanibel is a popular tourist destination known for its shell beaches and wildlife refuges. The Island hosts the Sanibel Historical Village and a variety of other museums and theaters, as well as many non-profit organizations like the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, and the Sanibel Sea School.Alternatively, the name may derive, as many believe, from "(Santa) Ybel", which survives in the old placename "Point Ybel", where the Sanibel Island Light is located.
Sanibel is not the only island in the area to figure prominently in the legends of Gaspar; Captiva, Useppa, and Gasparilla are also connected.In the Gulf he befriended Gasparilla, who allowed him to establish himself on Sanibel Island.Eventually the old Spaniard discovered Caesar had been stealing from him and chased him off, but not before his loot had been buried.The City of Sanibel passed new restrictions on development after it was incorporated; these were challenged by developers, to no avail.Currently the only buildings on the island taller than two stories date before 1974, and there are no fast food or chain restaurants allowed on the island except a Dairy Queen and a Subway, which were on the island before the laws were enacted.
The original bridge was demolished and its remains were sunk into the water to create artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.