The link below, Snowbirds Fly South, is to an article that I wrote for Atlantic Coastal Kayaker about paddling in southwest Florida. It ran in the November/December 2013 issue. It provides a good overview of the area with more information than what is in the embedded text of this page.
Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor of southwest Florida
The Gulf Islands of southwest Florida refers to the barrier islands from Tampa Bay south to Marco Island. The crown jewel of this entire coastline is Cayo Costa and the nearby islands in the chain along Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor. The paddling here is diverse. The protected waters on the inside provide calmer sea conditions for less experienced paddlers when the weather is rough. Many of the islands make great circumnavigation routes when the weather is nice.
The wildlife is striking in both the diversity and the shear numbers. Everything from shore birds and birds of prey to dolphins and manattees thrive on the productive habitats of the Sound and Harbor.
Native Americans have made their mark here as well. The Calusa of south Florida were the first Native Americans on the continent to make contact with the Spanish late in the 15th century. The realations with the Spanish were hostile. Much of what we could have learned from and about the Calusa has been lost. However, the Calusa left large shell mounds throughout southern Florida, some of which remain to be seen today on the islands. The Calusa’s fascinating story is told at the Randell Research Center on Pine Island.