On our recent family vacation to Florida, I began thinking about Vinalhaven and how islands so far away from each other can often seem so similar despite obvious differences. Sanibel Island is on Florida’s Gulf Coast, reached by a causeway bridge from the city of Fort Myers. Back when my grandparents first started going there in the late '60s the island had been newly bridged (it was ferry-only access before that). As it took our family two days via car, ferry, two planes, and then another car to hop across the Atlantic puddle from practically the top of the East coast to practically the bottom, it gave me time to think on the islands and to contact some friends to help dig up some data. Knowing that a number of folks here on Vinalhaven have been to Sanibel, I thought folks might enjoy the comparison.

In driving Sanibel’s estimated 50 miles of roads you’ll notice some similarities including the slow driving speed — never posted above 35 mph, the total lack of traffic lights, the absence of big box stores, the abundant birdlife and signs for trails. There are many walking trails, extensive shoreline, and a vast difference in seasonal populations too. With an island of only 20 square miles they have 6,600 residents with a winter high season of upwards of 32,000 people. Those numbers are surely explained by being bridged, only a couple miles off the mainland and in the sunny south with 15 miles of beaches!

On Sanibel there are mangroves and ample water sports, a huge library and active arts complex. There are nature preserves and even the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Sanctuary, and conserved land comprises 65 percent of the total land of the island. Sanibel too has a school, but it is K-8 with high school students getting bussed off island. There are 22 miles of paved bike paths with some of the 13 miles of dirt hiking trails that bikes can go on as well.

We likely know some of Vinalhaven’s data, but to help compare, our island is about 12 miles off the coast and is 24 square miles. We have an estimated 90 miles of roads both public and private and maybe around 10percent conserved land (estimated). We have a resident population of 1,300 and a high season population of anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000, though like in Sanibel, folks admit it’s hard to know what the real count might be at any given time. I think it’s interesting that our island is bigger than Sanibel and it has more than five times our population.

In Sanibel folks get excited about the osprey, which live there in profusion, raising their young this time of year. There are bald eagles to watch there too, as well as terns and gulls and countless shore birds. And of course there are wilder sightings like alligators, sea turtles, roseate spoonbills, and white pelicans. There is even a crocodile there. The island is known for its wildlife, especially by birders, and known for the impressive shells that can be found there. But it’s also popular with fisherman and those looking for seafood restaurants. What could Sanibel teach us about fisheries, marine resources, commerce, tourism, diversifying the economy, managing natural resources and other topics crucial to small island life? Probably a great deal since exploring any new place can help us gain perspective, gather ideas, and reflect on our own experiences.

Thanks to Andy Dorr at the town office for Vinalhaven data. Do check out Townofvinalhaven.org for our town website and Vinalhaven.org or the Chamber of Commerce site to learn more about Vinalhaven or to share information with visitors. Thanks to my folks, John and Becky Burnham and the people at various Sanibel organizations that they chatted with for data on that island. For more information check out mysanibel.com for their city site or sanibel-captiva.org for their Chamber of Commerce site, so if you haven’t heard of it, check it out, and if you visit, it is busier than Vinalhaven, but some aspects will make you feel right at home.

If you have news to share that you’d like to see in this column, please drop me a line at susan_raven@mindspring.com or leave a message at 207-863-4134.