Back in September, Hurricane Ian canceled the 30th annual “Ding” Darling Amateur Nature Photography Contest. The winners were supposed to be announced in October at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s Art in the Wild festival, but the storm delayed the event. Now, three winners and 10 honorable mentions have been announced. There were 140 entries from 22 states and three countries. All of the photos were taken in the Sanibel refuge complex.
Sanibel is an island in Florida. It is home to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, covering more than 5,200 acres and protecting many endangered and threatened species. Visitors can walk, bike, kayak and — in some areas — drive to see incredible animals in the wild.
During Hurricane Ian, the Sanibel Causeway partially collapsed. That cut the island off from the mainland. Hurricane Ian was a category 4 storm. Approximately 6,400 people live on the island. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has been recovering. It is partially reopened, but most of the trails remain closed.
“Despite the disruption from Hurricane Ian, the contest generated much excitement and nostalgia among photographers and our judges,” contest coordinator and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society (DDWS) Associate Executive Director Sierra Hoisington said. “Our refuge may not look the same as it did when these photos were created, but the wildlife is still here, and nature’s resilience promises to return to its former beauty captured in these works.”
The refuge has drawn visitors from all over the world. The first-place winner of the contest is from Switzerland. Frank Brinker’s winning photo of a least tern hatching is titled “Speedy.” And quite frankly, the picture of a baby bird running is a cute and lively shot.
“I love the movement portrayed in this photo,” contest judge and refuge Ranger Jessica Barry said. “During a dark time of Sanibel, to me this photo signifies hope and a new beginning.”
The prizes weren’t massive. They were cash awards. First place got $300, second received $225 and third won $175. The 10 honorable mentions were given $25, equivalent to a refund of the contest’s entry fee. People didn’t enter the prize to win a huge amount of money, just to show pride for their work and appreciation for a place they enjoyed visiting.
Contests like these are so important. Storms, fires and other natural disasters occur in our public spaces all too frequently. Seeing gorgeous and hopeful images like the ones in this contest reminds us of the beauty of nature’s resilience. With help and protection, lands can rebound after a tragedy. These photos were taken before the hurricane. But, with some TLC, the refuge will be back up and running soon. You can see the other winning images here. You can learn how to help the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge here.