Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve features one of the last undisturbed mangrove estuaries on the continent of North America and can be found on the gulf coast of Florida. Rookery Bay Reserve started in 1964 when a group of concerned citizens blocked the road to nowhere and formed the Collier County Conservancy.
The group began raising money and purchasing the Rookery Bay properties in 1965 and partnered with the National Audubon Society with community support. More than Half a million dollars was raised to purchase over 3,000 acres of land that became the Rookery Bay Sanctuary.
By 1971, another $800,000 was raised for past and future land purchases and Shell Point was acquired which completely enclosed the bay. 1977 saw the designation of Rookery Bay as a National Estuarian Research Reserve and in 1988 Cannon Island was acquired by the State of Florida through conservation efforts. In 2000, nearly all the CARL identified properties in Rookery Bay were part of the Reserve and efforts were underway to include Cape Romano and Ten Thousand Island Aquatic Preserves.
Today, Rookery Bay is 110,00 acres of subtropical mangrove forested estuary located in West Florida. 70,000 acres is open waters and 40,000 acres is mangroves, marches and upland habitats.
Visit Rookery Bay
Rookery Bay is where people on the Gulf Coast of Florida come for outdoor recreation from kayaking and boating to camping, fishing and swimming. There are trails for hiking, birdwatching and photographing as well and many opportunities for educational exploration and scientific studies.
Environmental Learning Center- This facility is equipped with 4 research labs, several classrooms and an auditorium as well as a large visitors center and is the first stop for most at Rookery Bay. With interactive exhibits, a 2,300 aquarium, the nature store, art gallery, and a picnic area, visitors can easily spend a day exploring inside before venturing out to the trails. The center can also host events large or small from birthday parties to conferences, weddings or meetings.
There are different themes daily that focus on different animals native to the bay that are led by naturalists. Details on themes of the day can be found on the Rookery Bay website. Tour guides are available for groups of 15 or more if arranged in advanced. Lunch space is available with reservations.
The Center is open weekdays from 9am-4pm all year round. There is an admission charge for the Learning Center; however, children under 6 are always free and there are discounts on certain days. More information is available on the website.
Guided Nature Tours- The estuary is home to many species of wildlife that visitors can get up close and personal to through outdoor recreational activities such as boating and kayaking. Rookery Bay offers guided tours through the bay and mangrove forests where osprey and dolphins are often seen!
Exploring the Reserve- Primitive camping, hiking, fishing, geocaching, boating, canoeing, kayaking, birdwatching, and just simply enjoy the outdoors is encouraged at Rookery Bay within designated areas. Rookery Bay is a wilderness experience which means that no facilities are available to maintain a pristine environment that is protected. All trash, including human waste must be disposed of properly. Catch and release fishing is encouraged and all visitors must follow Florida State laws governed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Isles of Capri Paddlecraft Park- This park provides access to a shallow mangrove bay with amazing opportunities to see wildlife and venture through relatively unexplored parts of Rookery Bay from unmotorized crafts like paddleboats and canoes. There is a ramp and picnic areas with restrooms.
What You Need to Know
Because Rookery Reserve Is protected, there are certain activities that are prohibited and rules that must be followed.
· Visitors must leave no trace when visiting
· All pets must be leashed
· Fires must not be left unattended
· No hunting or harassing wildlife
· Firearms or weapons are not allowed
· Removing, polluting or disturbing the natural surroundings are prohibited
Rookery Bay is a base for scientific research and study as well as an educational resource for over 3,000 students annually through field trips and outreach.
Amazing Adventures-This winter lecture series takes place on the auditorium screen and is narrated by a naturalist with refreshments and followed by a Q and A. Presentations focus on travel, natural history and destination ideas.
Lunch and Learn- Join for lunch every third Tuesday in the winter for a meal and presentation on environmental research. Registration is required.
Students and Teachers- There are several programs available for 4th grade through college students and homeschool groups at Rookery Bay involving training workshops, estuary investigations, hands on explorations and structured educational experience. More information can be found online.
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300 Tower Road Naples, Florida 34113, Phone: 239-530-5940, website