(Above) Kristie Anders with her retirement cake at the 51st anniversary of Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation. Photo by Judith Zimomra (Below) Anders with her brothers in their canoe.
(Above) Kristie Anders with her retirement cake at the 51st anniversary of Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation. Photo by Judith Zimomra (Below) Anders with her brothers in their canoe.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation marked its 51st anniversary on Oct. 31 in part by celebrating the retirement of Education Director Kristie Seaman Anders, 64, who stepped down after 30 years of service in mid-September.

What Kristie has contributed to the education of so many through the years about the natural world and our responsibility to it is without peer,” said Paul Roth, a four-term SCCF trustee. “Her passion, her outstanding ability to communicate, and her wonderful gift of storytelling are traits that few people have, and she has used them to make a difference. She will be greatly missed.”

Looking back at Anders’ life, her evolution into such a legendary storyteller and salt of the earth comes from her love of the outdoors and her gentle way of living. Her eco-genius, carpentry wizard of a husband, Red Anders, whose mother Alice Anders was known as Sanibel’s matriarch of sea shells, completes her as she “walks the walk” of an environmentalist with an authentic, local spirit.

Island girl from way back

The last time Anders lived on “the mainland” was for a brief stint in 1983 near Cherry Hill, New Jersey, just before the 29-year-old got a highly desirable posting as a ranger at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.

The permanent full-time job was with the National Park Service at Independence Hall. After just eight months I transferred to a wilder place – Sanibel,” she says with a smile.

She’d spent the prior decade doing park service and marine science stints at outdoor schools, the Florida Keys and Acadia National Park, immersed in the marine biology, history and intrigue of islands.

Growing up, she explored and splashed about in small islands of mud and rocks at the confluence of the Loyalsock and Mill Creeks behind her family’s home in central PA.

Islands have been thematic my entire life,” she says. “I had my own canoe and from April til October or November that’s where you’d find me and my brothers. And, we had just about every critter you can think of. We had foxes, flying squirrels, raccoons, crayfish and we even had a monkey at our dinner table.”

When she started at Penn State, Anders planned to become a veterinarian. But, being a practical person, she accepted the limitations of her chances and opened the doors to different destiny.

They only had seven to ten slots for women out of the 75 per year they accepted. So, my sophomore year I changed my major to marine science and outdoor education and planted myself in front of the selecting professor’s door every day for four weeks to get in to a program at Wallop’s Island.”

They didn’t take sophomores, which I was, and they only took 25-30 students. But, I got in,” says Anders, who is known for her tenacity and die-hard determination. That took her to the edge of the sea in 1974, where she lived and studied at Wallops Island Marine Science Consortium near Chincoteague on the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s really where I gained an understanding of how learning takes place in the field in real life situations and how different that learning is than the controlled perfection of a laboratory,” she says. An encounter with rough waters 100 miles offshore on the continental shelf nearly threw her overboard on one occasion, but that didn’t deter the discovery of her island destiny.

In the early eighties, she then worked for the National Park Service at the famed Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park in Maine. And, she also did stints in the Florida Keys at Newfound Harbor Marine Institute at Sea Camp and did a lot of sailing.

I was the first female deckhand some of the captains had ever seen up in Maine,” she says, recalling the depth of what she learned in that role. “Part of my job was to narrate the boat cruises. The park service had an incredible way of training and feedback. We were considered true ‘interpreters’ – we were the bridge between the visitor and the science.”

Trained to hone storytelling

Attributing that early training with the park service as the basis for her solid storytelling skills, she remembers being taught how to speak precisely to cover the transition from one slide to the next and how to time her narration and pauses for best audience retention.

I mean it was serious training. They would plunk people in the audience from regional offices who would then critique your delivery and give you feedback.”

Anders laughs a hearty chuckle as she reflects on her arrival on Sanibel in 1983.

I literally felt like I’d moved onto the set of ‘Flipper,’” she recalls. “I’d come to work at Ding Darling as a ranger and they put me up in a ramshackle old house next to the refuge manager. Right on the docks at Tarpon Bay – what a place to live.”

She’s been told that 300 people applied for the coveted gig she was offered. The reason she got it was thanks to five winters of teaching in the Keys, where she’d learned and taught about the unique South Florida estuarine ecosystems.

Having mangrove experience was very unusual, most people had been trained on the prairies and cypress swamps in the Fish and Wildlife Service,” she says. Sanibel was still in the early days, back when turtle patrols went out at night and before live shelling was banned.

I remember when I first came onto the island, I pulled into Tarpon Bay instead of the refuge entrance with the new visitor center,” she says. “I ended up at the old Dewey’s Marina, and a guy was drying starfish on newspaper. I mean, I’d been with the (U.S. National) park service for years and we were taught not to touch.”

Over her 30 years at SCCF, plus the preceding five years at Ding Darling, Anders trained and directed volunteers.

When I arrived at Ding, there were five volunteers,” says Anders. “When I left, there were 150.” She also worked with hundreds of volunteers at the SCCF over the years.

Appropriately, ushering in the new era in Anders’ own life, the first two people she hugged at her retirement send off at the SCCF nature center were two of the oldest volunteers. Jane Hanks, 99, signed on as a volunteer Kristie’s first year at Ding Darling.

She and Sally Soule, 92, who Kristie met at SCCF, hired an Uber from Shell Point. “They stepped out of the Uber and told the driver to just wait since you can’t get an Uber on Sanibel. Sally and Jane just came to hug me.”

Through volunteers, Anders learned a lot about life.

They taught me to age gracefully and how to go through loss in life with grace and dignity,” she says, paying it forward as she continues to volunteer in the community and at SCCF.

Park service to non-profit

With a father who’d worked in the U.S. Postal Service, Anders had been raised to find a secure government post, which is what she had found at the refuge. However, her time in the 1970s spent at Sea Camp on Big Pine Key had also introduced her to Erick Lindblad and his wife, Ellen, who were science instructors there. Erick went on to become director of the Sea Camp, which was also based on the experiential learning that Anders had come to love.

So, when the SCCF was looking for an executive director in 1985, Anders suggested Lindblad, who was hired and will be leaving after 33 years in November. Then, it was Lindblad who brought her on in 1988 when he realized the SCCF needed an education director to achieve its mission.

It was a risk for me to leave the park service and take a job with a fledgling non-profit, which is was at the time,” she recalls. “But, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to move up meant moving on at that time. And, Erick’s done a great job leading SCCF to the solid organization it is today.“

At the SCCF, Anders carried forth her interpreter training for educational programs that extended to a partnership with Captiva Cruises that she created with Paul McCarthy back in 1988.

Known as one of the most captivating island storytellers, Anders speaks in currents that flow like steady waves onto the shore. She carries 40 powerpoints on a thumb drive on her key chain of that allow her to share her narrative brilliance and educate.

I’ll still be sharing my stories. Shellpoint has it all set up for me to just come in and sit on a stool and click through,” she says, referring to the powerpoint presentations she carries with her.

In 1993, after marrying Red Anders, they moved to North Captiva Island into a ramshackle, fixer-upper because he liked to fish, she says. One does wonder if the retreat to an island without a bridge to the mainland mightn’t have been her allure.

For 22 years, I commuted by small boat on a daily basis- 40 knot winds, extreme low tides. Beautiful moonlit nights and prismatic sunrises were my joy,” she recollects, admitting that too many rocky commutes took their toll on her back. Captivans offered a her a place to stay on rough nights and a veterinarian gave them a small cottage on North Captiva until Red and Kristie found a home on Sanibel a few years ago.

Continuing as a volunteer with the SCCF, she just wrapped up her 35th summer on loggerhead turtle patrol on Captiva. At a recent talk she gave at the Captiva Yacht Club, she comforted many of souls by sharing that she’ll still be waxing tales from Old Captiva and the islands for several years out in the community.

What’s in the Anders’ long-term future? Another island home -- once an island girl always an island girl.

The day after her retirement celebration, she and Red closed on a 2 ¼-acre parcel of land on Pine Island, with a mango grove of more than 200 trees.

She calls it their hurricane home, their sea-level-rise plan and their off-the-grid, solar-powered farm with chickens to lychees. Having lived through the aftermath of Hurricane Charley on North Captiva, without power for several months, the Anders could also serve as consultants on Southwest Florida hurricane survival hacks.

With her simple, semi-rural roots in tact alongside her inherent eco-mindedness, she’s looking forward to having a few years to plan their home and make it as self-sufficient as possible. Red’s talents for eco-innovation and carpentry will keep them high and dry for years to come.

Anders continues to serve on the board of the Captiva Historical Society and is an outspoken advocate for the unincorporated, yet, essentially home-ruled island of Captiva that berthed her well-weathered boat for more than two decades at McCarthy’s Marina.