By Noelle H. Lowery
Calling all friends and patrons of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve: Saturday, March 15, the Friends of Rookery Bay will hold the Fifth Annual Batfish Bash for the Bay to support youth science education, environmental research activities and community outreach programs at the reserve. Held at the Environmental Learning Center (300 Tower Road, Naples), the festivities will begin with a cocktail hour at 6 PM, followed by silent and live auctions and an evening for dinner and dancing.
According to Craig Seibert, president of the Friends of Rookery Bay, Batfish Bash has raised more than $150,000 for the reserve over the course of four years. “We have bought boats, motors, barges, and this year we would like to purchase a Utility vehicle to help with a variety of projects within the reserve,” explains Seibert. “This event is critical to continue our educational programs at the reserve and support research that has direct impact on how we move forward to protect our waterways in Southwest Florida.”
The event and the funds it generates have become even more critical in recent years, points out Renee Wilson, regional communications coordinator for Rookery Bay. Managed by state and federal government agencies — Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Office in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — Rookery Bay’s budget has taken a hit in the last five years.
From FY2010 to FY2014, Rookery Bay saw its combined budget drop more than 15 percent. The biggest declines have been on the state funding side. During FY2009, the state of Florida budgeted $468,495 for Rookery Bay. That amount fell to $309,412 in FY2014. That is a 34 percent cut. The decline in funding means fewer dollars to hire key personnel for research and education programs.
The Batfish Bash also is a celebration of a more than half-century of citizen involvement at Rookery Bay. The history of the reserve dates back to a 1964 grassroots effort to stop the construction of a 10-mile loop between Naples and Marco Island. Dubbed the “Road to Nowhere,” the road would have cut through the pristine mangrove wetlands surrounding Rookery Bay. Since those 1,000 signatures were collected in two days to stop the road, citizen action has been at the heart of the protection and support of Rookery Bay and the environmentally sensitive water and land that comprises a large amount of the Ten Thousand Islands.
By 1971, nearly $2 million had been raised to buy up land around Rookery Bay. Local residents, the Collier County Conservancy (now the Conservancy of Southwest Florida) and The Nature Conservancy organized the funding, and additional lands were donated. In 1972, the Coastal Zone Management Act set the stage for the creation Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and in 1978, the reserve received its official federal designation. Today, the reserve covers 110,000 acres from Gordon Pass through the Ten Thousand Islands, and is one of 28 national estuarine research reserves.
Without the acts of a concerned and engaged citizenry, Rookery Bay as a reserve does not exist today. “This reserve is for everyone to explore, enjoy and protect,” says Wilson.
What’s more, the citizen involvement continues through the work of Friends of Rookery Bay. Started in 1987, it is a volunteer citizen support organization assisting in management of the reserve. Members provide assistance at the Environmental Learning Center, maintain the gift shop — Palmetto Parch Nature Store — and helping out with the guided boat and kayak tours. They also do a lot of fundraising.
Batfish Bash for the Bay is the Friends of Rookery Bay’s signature fundraising event. The funds are raised through the silent and live auctions, and even Rookery Bay staff get involved to immerse a few lucky bidders in their research specialties. Take Rookery Bay’s Fisheries Biologist Partrick O’Donnell who has offered a Shark Research Experience for auction, and long-time Rookery Bay Cultural Resource Manager Steve Bertone is offering an Archaeological and Cultural Exploration.
This year’s live auction item is the “Beautiful Belize Vacation of a Lifetime,” which includes a seven-night cruise on a luxury yacht courtesy of Aggressor Fleet. The cruise is valued at $5,900.
Tickets for Batfish Bash are $175 per person. For more information about the event or to order tickets, call Carly Gibb at 239-530-5971.
Batfish Bash Sponsors:
Arthrex, Minto, J.R. Evans Engineering, Lennar Homes, Fifth Third Bank, Gulf Coast Construction, Pulte Homes, Stock Development, Argo Land, Naples Daily News, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Aggressor Fleet, Southern Wine & Spirits of Florida, Artistic Science, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Marine Max and Walmart.
Fast Facts: Rookery Bay
- Manages 110,000 acres from Gordon Pass through the Ten Thousand Islands
- Home to 150 species of birds and many threatened/endangered animals
- One of 28 national estuarine research reserves
- Promotes informed stewardship of the coast through research and education
- Field trip spot for all Collier fourth graders as well as students up through university level
- Managed by Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Officein cooperation with NOAA
- Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is visited by 35,000 people annually