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Resource managers restore a mangrove retlandReserve resource managers work with contractors and volunteers to protect habitat and sustain native biodiversity. Some of their activities include land acquisition, habitat and hydrology restoration, invasive plant and animal control, listed species protection, marine mammal stranding response, prescribed fire and cultural resource monitoring. 

Cultural Resource Management

Reserve staff document and protect cultural resources, including prehistoric and historic artifacts and settlement sites. A new GIS-based cultural resource database has been created for all data related to the Reserve's cultural sites. This database will allow for easier updating of data and for easier access for researchers needing information. In order to assess, interpret and protect the vast range of cultural resources on Reserve lands, staff will continue to initiate, facilitate or conduct targeted research. Research examples include the recent survey of the northern half of the reserve and the new database creation. Updated data will serve as the basis for developing a comprehensive cultural resources management plan.

Interested in visiting a cultural site in the Reserve? Check out the second floor exhibits and the Snail Trail at the Environmental Learning Center or the Trails Through Time at the end of Shell Island Road. Learn more about this area's past on the History Mystery boat tour.

Learn About the Prehistory of the Rookery Bay Reserve Area

Learn About the Pioneer Era of the Rookery Bay Reserve Area

Habitat Mapping & Change

Habitat mappingThe Reserve is in the beginning stages of the Habitat Mapping and Change program. The purpose of the program is to track and evaluate short-term variability and long-term changes in the extent and type of habitats within the Reserve. Possible causes of any habitat change will be studied. The Reserve used aerial imagery of the entire Reserve and field surveys of a portion of the Reserve to determine the types of habitats present. Monitoring equipment will be installed to measure changes in sea level, tides, sediment level, and ground water and soil characteristics. In addition, vegetation monitoring will be conducted annually at select sites.

Invasive Species Monitoring

Non-native, invasive plants and animals threaten Florida's beautiful native wildlife. Species not found in Florida prior to the arrival of the first European settlers are considered non-native or exotic, and these species can become invasive when they defeat native species in the life-long competition for food, sunlight, and space.

Learn more about how the reserve staff manages invasive species.


Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Many members of the Rookery Bay staff are active, trained participants in the Marine Mammal Stranding Network - Southeast region. Members of this network provide response assistance as needed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Florida Wildlife Research Institute, which are the lead agencies on sea turtles, manatees, dolphins and whales in Florida waters.

In response to a call for help from the waters in or around the Rookery Bay Reserve, FWC contacts staff at Rookery Bay to verify the report (floating objects are sometimes misidentified), the precise location, and the nature of the injury or perceived illness. They often stay with the animal until more help is able to arrive on the scene, assist with or provide transportation to Miami Seaquarium or Lowery Park Zoo for rehabilitation, and are sometimes even on-hand to assist with the animal's subsequent release back into the same waters from where it was rescued. To report a marine mammal in distress, call the Marine Mammal Stranding hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

The "Dolphin & Whale 911" app (for both Apple and Android users) enables the public in the Southeast U.S. to immediately report live or dead stranded, injured, or entangled marine mammals by connecting them to the nearest stranding response hotline. The "SEE & ID Dolphins & Whales" app (for both Apple and Android users) is an electronic field guide that assists the public in identifying marine mammals in the Southeast U.S. and provide species information, such as physical description, biology, habitat, conservation/status and photos. The app also informs that public of appropriate ways to enjoy viewing marine mammals in the wild without harming or harassing them.

Learn more about the Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Learn about a recent Right Whale spotting on the Reserve in 2018 in 2018

Read about manatees released back into Rookery Bay in 2015

Read about Marine Mammal Stranding Newtork (MMSN) training in 2015

Read about the pilot whale mass stranding event on Kice Island in January 2014

Read about the leatherback sea turtle which was rescued from a crab trap line May 9, 2013

Read about an entangled dolphin which was rescued near Isles of Capri in 2012



Panther Range Expansion

New Technology Helping to Confirm Range Expansion of Florida Panthers

Rookery Bay Reserve is known for the pristine, mangrove-forested estuaries encompassed within its 110,000 acres along the southwest Florida coast that serve as home to coastal birds, fish and manatees. Many people don't realize that this boundary also protects approximately 6,000 acres of upland habitat such as pine flatwoods, tropical hardwood hammock and coastal scrub. These habitats provide food and shelter for a vast diversity of terrestrial species including the Florida panther.

Since 2000, Reserve biologists have observed subtle clues that Reserve lands are occasionally visited by Florida panthers. Tracks and scat piles (droppings) can indicate a cat's presence but how often they visit and for what purpose are questions that remained largely unanswered. Information on habitat use and feeding area preferences has historically only been documented through tracking collars placed on a handful of cats by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's capture team, and this information is limited by the number of collared cats.

As part of their listed species monitoring program, Rookery Bay Research Reserve biologists use wildlife cameras at a known crocodile nesting site to document nesting and predation. Over the past few years, staff has been assisting FWC biologists piece together clues about the panther population and have turned to technology to learn more about uncollared panthers.

Wildlife cameras installed in a number of locations including those previously suspected travel corridors are recording a more consistent presence of uncollared cats in this coastal area. The image resolution is even good enough to identify individual cats. The camera also records time and date of every visit, enabling biologists to not only confirm these coastal areas are important habitat, but to learn more about their overall health and other details not previously available through tracking data alone. The cameras provide a rare opportunity to observe endangered species behavior. The panther in the video above was clearly curious about the camera however, it stayed in view for nearly 30 minutes.

Learn more about the resource management efforts underway at the Research Reserve. 

Prescribed Fire

Fire is a process of rejuvenation. Some benefits of fire include replenishing nutrients in the soil, reducing natural fuel loads (downed limbs and dead leaves), stimulation of seed production, and maintenance of natural plant communities that benefit native wildlife. Although plants look pretty scorched after a fire, they resprout in a matter of weeks. Even during this time of blackness, beauty is everywhere, and wildlife is taking advantage of newly-available food resources.

Land management through prescribed fire is a beneficial method of maintaining suitable habitat for native wildlife. Research and monitoring of these management actions are important in assessing the success of fire management strategies. In the past, fire suppression on Reserve lands greatly increased fuel levels, or the amount of dead or dried leaves and branches that could easily be ignited under proper conditions. Currently the Reserve has an active prescribed fire program using trained staff and trained personnel from partner agencies.

A major portion of Collier County is comprised of plants that are dependent on fire to maintain species composition and diversity. These species are the same as those that are prone to lightning-strike wildfires and the controlled reduction of those fuels will prevent catastrophic wildfire damage. Fire-dependent plants include the South Florida slash pine, gallberry, saw palmetto and scrub oaks.

Prescribed fire as a land management tool in natural areas has many benefits, including:
• Reduction of fuel load to decrease threat of wildfires;
• Stimulation of food and seed production
• Opening areas for wildlife feeding and travel;
• Ecosystem diversity;
• Enhanced endangered and threatened species habitat; and
• Invasive plant control.

If you have questions or concerns about smoke in your area, please contact the Florida Forest Service at 239-690-8001.

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