Cayo Costa State Park

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Cayo Costa State Park
IUCN category IV (habitat/species management area)
Map showing the location of Cayo Costa State Park
Map showing the location of Cayo Costa State Park
LocationLee County, Florida, United States
Nearest cityBoca Grande, Florida
Coordinates26°40′19″N 82°14′49″W / 26.67194°N 82.24694°W / 26.67194; -82.24694Coordinates: 26°40′19″N 82°14′49″W / 26.67194°N 82.24694°W / 26.67194; -82.24694
Area2,506 acres (10 km2)
Governing bodyFlorida Department of Environmental Protection

Cayo Costa State Park is a Florida State Park on Cayo Costa (formerly known as La Costa Island (Padilla Rancho)), which is directly south of Boca Grande (Gasparilla Island), 12 miles (19 km) west of Cape Coral and just north of North Captiva Island. The park is accessible only by charter boat (with or without captain), private boat, ferry[1] or helicopter.


Cayo Costa was occupied by Calusa people until about 1700. Native Americans built a number of shell mounds on the island.[2] Starting early in the 18th century, fishermen from Cuba began establishing ranchos, stations for catching and processing fish for the Havana market, along the southwest coast of the Florida peninsula from Tampa Bay to the Caloosahatchee River, possibibly including on Cayo Costa. The ranchos operated through the period of British rule (1763-1783), the second period of Spanish rule (1783-1821), and into the period of American rule, until they were forced out during the Second Seminole War.[3]

Tervio (Tariva, Toribio) Padilla, commonly known as "Captain Pappy", settled on Cayo Costa in the second half of the 19th century. Born in the Canary Islands, Padilla became a U. S. citizen in 1862, while a resident of Key West. Padilla operated a rancho on Cayo Costa, where he and his workers caught and processed fish for the Cuban market. A cemetery on the island holds the graves of Padilla and his wife, as well as of approximately 30 Cuban fishermen who died in a 1910 hurricane.[4]


Cayo Costa Island is one of a chain of barrier islands that shelter Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. The park contains nine miles (14 km) of soft white sandy beaches and 2,506 acres (10 km2) of pine forests, oak-palm hammocks, and mangrove swamps.[5]


There is a variety of wildlife that can be seen at the park.

Among the most looked-for animals found in Cayo Costa State Park are the sea turtles. There are four species found on the island, the loggerhead (Caretta caretta), hawksbill (Eremochelys imbriata), green (Chelonia mydas), and Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii). Cayo Costa has many volunteers who check the entire nine mile beach each morning during sea turtle nesting season to find new nests and document them which is during the months of March through October in Southwest Florida. The loggerhead turtle is found far more than the others, and the green turtle is a distant second. The loggerhead turtle and green turtle's eggs have the most diverse niches awhile hawksbill and Kemp's ridley do not. Their niches rely on climate and weather which allow the eggs to survive on land and eventually hatch.[6]

Another species found on the island is the common raccoon (Procyon lotor). These animals pose a big problem during the sea turtle nesting season due to the fact that they are the most common species of predation on the eggs. Others types of predation on the eggs include: high tide, foxes, ants, ghost crabs, and looting humans.[7]

The West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) is also found coming up to the island beaches. This is considered an endangered animal, but the population is currently growing.[8] They can be seen from the beach or near the canals and docks of the island. The West Indian manatee is found in Florida and Puerto Rico. Although they are part of the same species, there is genetic diversity and allele frequency between the two populations.[8]

The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) can also be seen jumping, swimming, and playing along the all nine miles of beaches on the island.[9] Each dolphin has its own personal whistle just like any human would have a distinct voice. Dolphins are able to recognize these sounds and communicate through them. Scientists are able to measure these sounds and put them with the individual dolphin that made them.[9]

The snowy egret (Egretta thula) can be found on the island.[10] They usually stay near the beaches. They are a small white heron with long, slender black legs and yellow feet. Both sexes of the snowy egret have the same features even during the breeding season.[10]

The southern bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) can be found flying about the island or sitting up on the high trees.[11] This is another threatened species. The eagles eat a variety of animals, but prefer fish. They scavenge and steal food when they are able to, and the eagle hunts for live prey only as a last resort.[11]


The mother-in-law's tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata) is found on the island. This plant is most commonly seen as a house plant, but this invasive species came from one of the houses on the island and has spread widely. Staff is currently trying to rid the island of this invasive plant.

The resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides) is found growing on trees throughout Cayo Costa. It is an epiphyte that if it is dehydrated, will turn brown and curl up its leaves looking dead. When the plant receives water or rain, the plant will "come back to life" and reappear green and alive.[12]

Seagrape (Coccoloba uvifera) is found at Cayo Costa. The fruit comes about in the summer time during the wet season of southwest Florida. It starts out at a bright green grape then ripens to a purplish color. The fruit mainly consists of a large seed with little flesh. It is well known of Florida natives to make jellies or wines from the grapes. This plant is native to South Florida and the Caribbean.[13] This plant can grow up to fifty feet tall, and is usually close to the ocean because they are one of the few salt tolerant plants.[13]

Recreational activities[edit]

Activities include hiking, off-road bicycling, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, picnicking, fishing, shelling,[14][15] wildlife viewing, camping, and sunbathing.


Amenities include boat slips,[16] beaches, hiking trails, picnic pavilions, 12 primitive camping cabins and bath house/restrooms.[17] The park offers a small nature center/gift shop with nature exhibits as well as items for sale. The park has the following available for purchase: ice, sun lotion, bug spray, T-shirts, hats, bird keys, shell keys, and postcards. Cayo Costa has bikes available for half-day and full-day rentals.[18]


There are 12 primitive cabins and 30 tent sites available for camping each with its own picnic table and fire pit/ground grill assigned to each site. Boat slips are available for those who wish to camp aboard their boats.


Florida state parks are open between 8 a.m. and sundown every day of the year (including holidays).

Wildlife gallery[edit]


  1. ^ "Exploring the islands of Southwest Florida: Cayo Costa". WINK-TV. 20 July 2015. Retrieved 9 August 2016. Cayo Costa is only assessable via boat, however Captiva Cruises serves as the exclusive ferry service to the island and runs multiple daily trips to the island, including half and full day trips.
  2. ^ Ruane, Laura (November 2, 2015). "Cayo Costa Island: Beyond the Beaches". (Ft. Myers) News-Press. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  3. ^ Hammond, E. A. (April 1973). "The Spanish Histories of Charlotte Harbor". The Florida Historical Quarterly. 51 (4): 355–380. JSTOR 30145870.
  4. ^ "People of Influence: Capt. Pappy Padilla". (Fort Myers) News-Press. November 12, 2014. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
  5. ^ Franks, Ed (16 April 2014). "Cayo Costa shows off its past and present May 3". Pine Island Eagle. Ogden Newspapers. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  6. ^ Pike, "Climate influences the global distribution of sea turtle nesting" Global Ecology and Biogeography, 2013
  7. ^ Bravo, Estrella, "Marine Turtles Nesting Monitoring in El Cuyo, Yucatan, Mexico Season 1997", NOAA Technical Memorandum, 1998
  8. ^ a b Hunter, Margaret, Mignucci, Tucker, King, Bonde, Gray, McGuire, "Puerto Rico and Florida manatees represent genetically distinct groups", Conservation Genetics, 2012
  9. ^ a b Janik, "Identifying signature whistles from recordings of groups of unrestrained bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)", Marine Mammal Science, 2013
  10. ^ a b Parsons, Master, "Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)", The Birds of North America Online, 2000
  11. ^ a b Buehler, "Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)", The Birds of North America Online, 2000
  12. ^ Wang, Xiaonan, Zhang, Cao, Yan, Dai, "Desiccation tolerance mechanism in resurrection fern-ally Selaginella tamariscina revealed by physiological and proteomic analysis", Journal of Proteome Research, 2010
  13. ^ a b Jackson, "With the Wild Things: Seagrape", Florida Gulf Coast University, 2007
  14. ^ Glaser, Susan (8 October 2009). "3 remote Florida islands boast beautiful, uncrowded beaches". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved 9 August 2016. Sanibel is supposed to be paradise for shellers, but trust me: Cayo Costa is the promised land.
  15. ^ Winkeler, Les (28 March 2014). "Florida beaches no shell game". The Southern Illinoisan. Retrieved 9 August 2016. Shelling is a popular activity on Sanibel, North Captiva, Cayo Costa and other Gulf Coast islands.
  16. ^ Ruane, Laura (26 February 2016). "Who can use new dock at Florida's Cayo Costa State Park?". The News-Press. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  17. ^ Wierima, Brian (4 September 2015). "Cayo Costa park rangers work in unique environment". Cape Coral Daily Breeze. Ogden Newspapers. Retrieved 9 August 2016.
  18. ^ McCann, Ashley (9 February 2016). "Parental Advisory: Choose your adventure: Five family-friendly Florida campgrounds". Naples Daily News. Retrieved 9 August 2016. Cayo Costa State Park: The fact that this campsite is located on an island ups the adventure factor (and the need for prioritizing while packing) but a day — and night — at the beach are worth the extra effort.

Padilla Family.

Padilla Family