Sunday, September 20, 2020

Enjoy Your Estuary

Rookery Bay, designated in 1978, was established on Shell Island Road  in 1984. In 1996, headquarters moved to Tower Road, but the Shell Island Road location, seen here, is still in use as a field station and hub for ecotours. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

Rookery Bay, designated in 1978, was established on Shell Island Road in 1984. In 1996, headquarters moved to Tower Road, but the Shell Island Road location, seen here, is still in use as a field station and hub for ecotours. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

COASTAL CONNECTIONS
Renee Wilson
renee.wilson@dep.state.fl.us

Marco Island is surrounded by natural beauty. Here, freshwater from land meets saltwater from the sea and forms a unique habitat known as an estuary. This special environment is vital to coastal communities like Marco because it provides shelter for fish and shellfish, recreational opportunities for people, and an economic engine that drives the local economy through tourism and real estate.

The value of these natural resources to the local community was recognized in 1978, when the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve was established. A grassroots effort began with concerned citizens purchasing a few thousand acres of core lands around Rookery Bay for future generations to enjoy. Over the following decades, more

Educational booths, like this one hosted by Collier Mosquito Control District, provide hands-on experiences and opportunities to learn about wildlife.

Educational booths, like this one hosted by Collier Mosquito Control District, provide hands-on experiences and opportunities to learn about wildlife.

than 110,000 acres of mangroves, salt marsh, and coastal scrub habitats from Naples through the Ten Thousand Islands became enclosed within the protective boundaries of the reserve, which is managed under a state-federal partnership to ensure they continue to thrive.

Estuaries are often called “nurseries of the sea,” because they are where many kinds of fish and shellfish start their lives. Gray (mangrove) snapper, sea trout, pink shrimp and blue crab are among the species that, as juveniles, seek shelter behind the protective prop roots of red mangrove trees, amongst the shells of oyster reefs, or between the blades of seagrasses. Manatees, birds and other animals also find refuge in these quiet backwaters. Reserve

A turtle excluder device, or TED, lets kids see how sea turtles that accidentally getcaught in a shrimp net can swim to safety.

A turtle excluder device, or TED, lets kids see how sea turtles that accidentally getcaught in a shrimp net can swim to safety.

staff and volunteers keep tabs on local estuaries through water quality monitoring and fisheries research, manage the resources through prescribed fire and exotic removal, and educate the community on ways to help protect these special places in a variety of ways.

All year long, the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center provides hundreds of educational programs and tours for students, families and adults. On National Estuaries Day, Rookery Bay Reserve extends a variety of opportunities for residents and visitors to appreciate these special places known as nurseries of the sea. It takes place nationwide on the last Saturday in September.

Held at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center, the free event invites visitors to explore the

Seagrass beds are like a forest where small fish can hide and find food.

Seagrass beds are like a forest where small fish can hide and find food.

estuarine environment and learn about the estuary through 30-minute guided boat tours, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding demos, lab tours, native plant walks and more. Children can enjoy the marine life touch tank, crafts and activities, and they can even see what it is like to be a sea turtle in a shrimp net, with an actual “turtle excluder device.” A food vendor will be on-site with an array of lunch options, drinks and snacks for purchase.

The featured presentation this year is Tales from the Coast, Adventures from 30 Years in Coastal Management by Gary Lytton, former reserve director. His program will recount his experiences working in the estuary as both an educator and director,

Oyster beds provide hiding places for small animals that are food for predators like redfish. They also provide substrate for mangrove seedlings (propagules) to take root.

Oyster beds provide hiding places for small animals that are food for predators like redfish. They also provide substrate for mangrove seedlings (propagules) to take root.

including studying fish populations with local students, rescuing a stranded fin whale in the Ten Thousand Islands, and hosting a visit from President Bush in 2004.

Admission to the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center on Saturday, September 26, is free, and tours are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For folks who prefer not to stand in line, VIP passes are available for purchase at www.rookerybay.org/national-estuaries-day, with proceeds supporting the Friends of Rookery Bay. Event partners also include the Marco Island Shell Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and Everglades Area Tours.

 

Renee Wilson is Communications Coordinator at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. She has been a Florida resident since 1986 has joined the staff at the reserve in 2000.

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