At the recent meeting of the DWCM (Democratic Women Club of Marco), over forty members and guests listened to a very informative lecture by Renee Wilson who is from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and works at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Before Ms. Wilson’s talk, Karen Blum gave the results of a survey concerning the March meeting which was on conflict resolution between people of widely different political opinions. The conclusion of members’ feedback was that one should always maintain “a positive take on a subject,” find something you can agree on, do research so that you have facts to defend your position, make yourself aware of personal biases and stereotypes, and try to be more open minded. Some suggested that additional training might be helpful with more modeling and examples, round table debates with smaller groups, more practice rather than presentation, and facilitators taking more control of outbreak sessions.
The first part of Ms. Wilson’s presentation concerned the interesting history of Rookery Bay. This area of Florida has been occupied by humans for over 6,000 years. Archaic shell rings pre-date Calusa shell mounds! The Calusa culture and their predecessors thrived for thousands of years on fish and shellfish from estuaries like those surrounding Marco Island.
In the 1880s, settlers came to Marco. Many families occupied what is now Marco and the surrounding area. The early settlers used the Calusa Indian shell mounds to get above the flood lines.
Flash forward 80 years. In 1963 someone proposed to connect Naples to the barrier islands. Some called it a “road to nowhere.” Due to grass roots efforts, sensitive lands and waterways were set aside for preservation and for a research reserve.
In 1966 a group, led by Collier County Conservancy in partnership with the Florida Audubon Society and 4,000 local schoolchildren, raised money to protect the Rookery Bay.
Then in 1973, the Rookery Bay Sanctuary was officially established. Initially, it was 3,000 acres which grew to 12,000 acres in 1975. Now Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses 110,000 acres including many of the “10,000 islands.”
Rookery Bay is one of 29 Estuarine Research Reserves in the country.
A major component of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is the research Department. “In house” and “outside” scientists and students study the flora and fauna of the Reserve. Scientists monitor the estuarine fish communities in the 10,000 Islands. These scientists also run a shark nursery assessment program, acoustic monitoring, as well as keeping track of various species of fish and wildlife. They monitor weather, water quality and wildlife, and keep track as wetlands are restored. For example, in 2018 (after Irma), we know that 10,000 turtles hatched from Cape Romano beaches.
The continuous water quality monitoring monitors conditions in Rookery Bay every 30 minutes. You can go online to the website and see conditions at www.nerrsdata.org.
Ms. Wilson then spoke of Hurricane Irma’s impact on the estuary. The scientists were able to leave water quality monitors in place for an analysis of what happened during the hurricane. They recorded a nine-foot surge and reverse surge which bottomed out. It took several weeks for oxygen to return to the water. Because the estuary was healthy, it can come back on its own.
In 2011 when a pod of 22 pilot whales were stranded on the beach and died, Rookery Bay scientists let nature take its course, and the remains of the whales quickly disappeared, feeding hungry sea and land creatures. Similarly, while high winds from Irma killed many mangroves, researchers expect them to come back on their own over time.
In 2004, Rookery Bay opened the 16,000 square foot Environmental Learning Center. 25,000 people visit it each year. Rookery Bay works in partnership with Collier County Schools. More than 2,600 students come through annually as 4th and 7th graders to participate in field trip experiences as part of the curriculum. There also are programs for high school and college students. Rookery Bay holds a weeklong camp for middle- and high-school students called Summer Institute for Marine Science. For adults Rookery Bay offers Eco tours, kayak tours which run into May and a Coastal Training Program for professionals.
There are many opportunities to volunteer. Volunteers are needed for sea turtle monitoring, for Team OCEAN, which goes out on the water and talk to people about being better stewards of the beach (i.e. dogs on leash, dropping anchors on sensitive plants, etc.). Team Ocean educates tourists and boasts 60+ volunteers, but more always are needed, especially in the summer. To learn about volunteer opportunities, call 239-530-5974 or go to www.rookerybay.org.
The next meeting of the DWCM will be May 14th at 5 PM in Mackle Park. The guest speaker will be Jeanne Nealon from the outreach project, “Laces of Love.” Members and guests are asked to bring donations of children’s sneakers, sizes 1 to 9.
The June 11th meeting of the DWCM will be held in Rose Hall at the Library. Kathleen Passidomo (R) Florida Senate will present with Q&A to follow. This meeting is open to the public.