The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is celebrating its 40th anniversary with the debut of a full-length documentary film. Titled “Southwest Florida’s Mangrove Coast,” the documentary is slated to air on many of Florida’s PBS stations throughout the month of April, including WEXL (West Palm Beach) on April 9, WPBT (Miami) April 10, and WGCU (Ft. Myers) on April 22 and April 28. A preview screening is planned for the Naples area on April 8.
“Rookery Bay has a rich history of preservation and education regarding the area’s unique natural resources,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “Through this documentary, residents and visitors statewide will now have a greater understanding and appreciation of this special habitat and the staff who work hard to protect it.”
The documentary film highlights the reserve’s story of how a vision to protect the fragile ecosystem between Marco Island and Naples grew to include partnerships with local families and conservation agencies. Because of those efforts, the reserve offers a myriad of opportunities for exploration and education.
“We are really excited about this film,” Reserve Director Keith Laakkonen said. “The documentary not only describes, but also shows the diversity of connections that people have made to this extraordinary place for over four decades.”
The film, produced by award-winning director Elam Stoltzfus and writer Nic Stoltzfus of Live Oak Production Group, highlights Rookery Bay’s past and present programs. It also includes appearances by people who were instrumental in creating the reserve, as well as partners who continue to help the reserve achieve its mission of providing a basis for informed stewardship of estuaries in Southwest Florida through research and education. The documentary is funded by DEP with support from the Collier County Tourism and Development Council.
Rookery Bay was designated as a National Estuarine Sanctuary by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Florida Gov. Bob Graham in 1978, following a grassroots effort spearheaded in the 1960s by the National Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and Collier County Conservancy.
Located at the northern end of the Ten Thousand Islands on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Rookery Bay was protected when the local community became concerned about plans for a road extension and causeway that would connect Naples with the islands adjacent to the bay. What started out as a 3,000-acre sanctuary has grown to 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters through the state’s Conservation and Recreational Lands Program, Preservation 2000 and the Florida Forever Act.