Sunday, July 12, 2020

National Estuaries Day a Big Splash at RBNERR

Stepping Stones

Dolphin Birthing Update

Join Bob on October 21st at the Marco Island Historical Society’s Rose Auditorium as he kicks off the fall/winter series of events there. He will talk about the fall birthing season and the new calves that are now in the area. This popular presentation starts at 7 PM. Arrive early to get a good seat. Bob will be signing his books that night as well.

Ibis (shown here), egrets, herons, terns and pelicans were prevalent during the free boat tours on the Estuary Days celebration.

Free boat rides? Free kayaking and paddleboard experiences? Free visits to a nature learning center? That’s what September 28th was all about at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR). To celebrate National Estuaries Day all of the events listed above were available at no charge. This day is a nationwide celebration of our bays and estuaries and the benefits they provide to local communities and the turnout at Rookery Bay was fantastic!

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) is a network of 28 protected estuaries representing different biogeographic regions throughout the United States. The NERRS protects more than one million acres of estuarine habitat. Rookery Bay’s program manages 110,000 acres containing 6,000 acres of upland areas and 104,000 submerged acres. Included in this region is 36,000 acres of mangrove islands and shores and 68,000 acres of open water.

Estuaries are very important throughout the country. They are places of change, locations where fresh water from rivers and streams mix with saltwater from the sea. An estuary can be a bay, a lagoon or a slough. These important coastal habitats are used as spawning grounds and nurseries for at least two-thirds of the entire nation’s commercial fish and shellfish.

The wetlands associated with estuaries buffer upland communities from flooding and also provide a variety of recreational opportunities such as swimming, boating, bird watching and eco-tours.

As the name implies, Rookery Bay is a research reserve as well as a learning center. The waterways in this area are dotted with sensors that indicate, every fifteen minutes, the water temperature, salinity, tide conditions and other important factors and allow the scientists there to monitor and record changes in this sensitive environment. Water quality is an important issue and the dedicated team here is outstanding in keeping tabs on the area.

Photos by Bob McConville |
Rookery Bay Research Reserve, just south of U.S. 41 on Collier Boulevard, is a great place to learn about marine life, plants and area waterways.

On September 28th the NERRS staff was happy to showcase their findings to the public. 806 total guests signed up in advance to participate in the day’s events. Seventy-five kayak tour guests were treated by Rising Tide Tours to a learning experience right at water level. 350 guests toured the Junior Science Lab and 480 guests enjoyed a 30 minute boat tour staffed by a Rookery Bay specialist.

Boat tours were conducted by the Good Fortune II and the Dolphin Explorer, both of which donated vessels and crew for the event. On board the Good Fortune were Captain Marty and his First Mate Debbie. The Dolphin Explorer was captained by Eddie Farr and Master Naturalist Bob McConville (me). Tours took the guests through the mangrove forests and back bays for an informative learning experience, led by Rookery Bay leaders Brita Jessen, Jessica McIntosh, Keith Laakkonen and others.

These truly educated specialists taught their audiences about the importance of the mangrove trees, the brackish water and the research that Rookery Bay conducts. Birdlife along the way was identified and consisted of sandwich terns, brown pelicans, belted kingfishers, snowy egrets, great egrets, little blue herons and tri-colored egrets. A bottlenose dolphin even swam by, identified by the Dolphin Explorer crew as a seven-year-old named Sammy.

Comments from those taking part in the festivities for the day were all very, very positive. Just about everyone I spoke to said they learned something, and everyone applauded the day’s events. A constant response from the public was “I didn’t know that” or “I want to know more about this area.” They were all treated to an educational event that few get to enjoy.

Kudos to Rookery Bay and its magnificent staff of teachers and leaders for a job more than well done, it was superb. Rookery Bay’s facility is open to the public as well. Check for days and times. It is a fascinating educational experience with a variety of on-site tours and learning opportunities.

Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin survey vessel Dolphin Explorer. He is the author of two books, available locally, and an award-winning columnist for this newspaper. Bob loves his wife very much!

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