Located at the northern end of the Ten Thousand Islands on Florida's Gulf Coast, the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve represents one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America. The research reserve is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and encompasses two aquatic preserves - Rookery Bay and Cape Romano-Ten Thousand Islands.
Rookery Bay Reserve is located adjacent to Naples, one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the state, and is ideally suited as a regional hub for education and research on estuaries. Rookery Bay Reserve's mission is to provide a basis for informed coastal decisions, working in partnership with local communities to promote coastal stewardship.
The Little Marco Settlement was established in the early 1880s, shortly after the Homestead Act began encouraging Americans to spread out across the country and carve out their piece of paradise. Located along the banks of Henderson Creek and Hall Bay, from Shell Island to Little Marco Island, dozens of homesteads formed this waterfront community that predated the city of Naples. People primarily made a living off the richness of the estuary, catching fish, harvesting shellfish and growing small plots of winter vegetables.
In the 1960s, with farms, buildings, roads and canals springing up across coastal Collier County, residents started to take notice that the once pristine bays and estuaries were showing the effects of development upstream. A number of grassroots efforts to "save Rookery Bay" resulted in the designation of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in 1978 through NOAA.
Rookery Bay Reserve is primarily accessible by boat, with opportunities for primitive camping, fishing, nature trails, geocaching and other compatible activities. A marked paddling trail exists at the mouth of Henderson Creek. A primitive ramp at the end of Shell Island Road allows for small-vessel access into the reserve (use at your own risk).
View map showing access opportunities as well as restrictions in certain locations.
Several Calusa mound complexes are protected within the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve’s 110,000 acres.
Wildlife Habitat Description:
An amazing world exists within the 110,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest, uplands and protected waters of Rookery Bay. Where rivers and streams meet the sea, a unique habitat is formed. A myriad of wildlife, including 150 species of birds and many threatened and endangered animals, thrive in the estuarine environment and surrounding upland hammocks and scrub found within the reserve.
Areas of Critical State Concern
Beach Nesting Birds
Mixed Hardwood Pine Forest
Outstanding Florida Waters
October 10, 2022 - 9:09am
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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.