How to avoid Sanibel Island Red Tide

Sanibel red tide
Red tide fish kill on a Sanibel Island beach
Nothing can ruin your day quite like hearing about a Sanibel Islander red tide bloom a week before your trip.  The massive red tide bloom that plagued Sanibel for much of last summer got a lot of press, but an outbreak that large is not a common occurrence.

Sanibel red tide

Let’s face it, booking a trip to Sanibel is expensive and must be done far in advance.  So far in advance, that it is usually impossible to know if there will be any red tide on Sanibel during your trip.  Here are a few ideas on how to avoid the dreaded Sanibel red tide blooms altogether.

Know the months that red tide is most likely to occur

While there isn’t much for data on monthly probabilities for Florida red tide blooms, I did find some trends.  Looking at Florida Fish and Wildlife red tide maps from the past 10 years, I found that mid-July through mid-October was the most common months for red tide to occur on Sanibel Island.
Its important to note that this does not mean you should avoid these months, you just need to know that red tide is a possibility during these times.

Move to avoid red tide

Rarely is red tide widespread across all of Sanibel Island?  You can often move from one end of the island to the other to avoid the red tide bloom.  Captiva will often be clear while Sanibel experiences a red tide bloom.
Red tide is caused by an overabundance of a specific type of red algae.  It only moves by wind and water currents, which makes it tricky to predict its movement.  Luckily the Florida FWC provides fantastic resources on red tide movement and fish kill locations. This link is an invaluable resource for current red tide information https://myfwc.com/research/redtide/statewide/

Booking considerations during Sanibel red tide season

There are several strategies to booking a vacation during this late July to late October window.  It is a myth that travel insurance covers red tide outbreaks (hurricanes are also excluded), so don’t count on that.  The best option is booking a hotel or rental that allows cancellations close to the date of your stay.  Since it’s impossible to predict Sanibel red tide a month before your stay, it is important to book accommodations carefully.
If you are renting a condo or house through VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner or Homeaway.com they have several levels of leniency in regards to cancellations.  You want to target rental listings that have these cancellation policies:

“Relaxed”: Full refund if canceled before 14 days and 50% refund between 7-14 days.  This is the ideal refund policy, 14 days out should give plenty of time to anticipate the red tide

“Moderate”: Full refund if canceled before 30 days and 50% refund between 14-30 days.  This is the second-best option and more common on VRBO.  While you won’t be able to anticipate the small red tide outbreaks longer than 30 days out, you will have time to anticipate really big outbreaks like the past summer.
If you are booking a hotel you need carefully pay attention to cancellation policies.  They vary widely between booking sites.  We always recommend Hotels.com because they have by far the best policies when it comes to canceling a hotel stay.  Here’s a link to our top 5 hotels in Sanibel Island: Frequent Islander’s Top 5 rated Sanibel Hotels Some hotels have non-refundable rates along with a fully cancellable rate (sometimes up to the day before your stay).  You might have to pay a few dollars more for the flexible cancellable rate but this is well worth it when dealing with red tide outbreaks.

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