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kayak and boat tours

TOTE 250Each year, roughly 3,000 local students have the opportunity to get “a taste” of our local estuary as part of Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve’s field trip programs. Helping to extend that reach exponentially is NOAA's annual “Teachers on the Estuary” (TOTE) program.

The two-day workshop is open to all teachers that teach any subject for any grade at any school. TOTE workshops offer a minimum of 15 contact hours, giving teachers the opportunity to:

  • Explore coastal habitats and conduct field investigations;
  • Interact with local scientists and experienced coastal educators;
  • Integrate local and national monitoring data into the classroom; and
  • Learn hands-on field activities highlighting our various Estuary Education Resources

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On board the education vessel, teachers practice water quality sampling techniques, handle and observe many types of marine life and learn how to collect plankton. A field trip to a nearby barrier island provides immersive experiences in a mangrove basin forest and a beach walk where teachers learn about the different estuarine habitats and their connections to the land. In the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center, sessions led by reserve educators and community partners focused on sea turtle and shark research, shorebird monitoring, invasive species and a myriad of online tools and other resources that are available for teachers to use in their lesson planning.

Expected Outcomes for Students

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• Raise awareness of the connection between the ocean and student’s lives.
• Enhance ability to analyze and interpret data.
• Improve understanding about how scientists use monitoring data to study and protect ocean resources.
• Gain a better understanding of the scientific method, including the concept that science is an on-going, iterative process.
• Improve understanding of estuarine ecology, including functions and values of estuaries.
• Foster a sense of stewardship of watersheds, estuaries, and oceans.

Results are always fantastic. In 2018, 40 TOTE workshops were held nationwide engaging 290 teachers.

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Here's what teachers are saying:

• 94% intend to integrate in the coming school year
• 81% found the “hands-on, field based professional development that helps me meet STEM standards” VERY USEFUL
• 84% found the “access to a curriculum that provides local data and relevant science topics for my students” VERY USEFUL
• 87% said “professional experts that I can call on year round” was VERY USEFUL
• Quality of content, quality of instruction, usefulness, and location all received over 90% VERY SATISFIED
• The Need/Want Science Related Topics box has amazingly useful suggestions if you’re looking to update or expand your TOTE workshops! For example, lots of suggestions for climate change, human impacts, MWEEs, ocean acidification, watersheds and water quality
• The Ah-Ha Moments box has some great nuggets that all ECs could use to get ideas for future workshops. For example, what is the Tabletop Turbidity Tool that one teacher references and which EC is using it because we’d like to learn more about it!

Looking Back & Moving Forward

Wednesday, Feb. 13
5 - 7 p.m.

You are invited to join the Friends' Board of Directors, Executive Director and staff for our Annual Members' Meeting. The evening will start with a cocktail reception and then look back at 30+ years of support to Rookery Bay Research Reserve and our vision moving forward to support YOUR backyard. Members will also learn about exciting programs and activities planned to cap off the Reserve's 40th anniversary. Guests are welcome.

Rookery Bay Research Reserve has announced the Plenary speakers for the Mangrove Symposium on Nov. 14.

Robert TwilleyDr. Robert R. Twilley is the executive director of Louisiana Sea Grant and a professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science at Louisiana State University. Dr. Twilley was one of the earliest graduate students at Rookery Bay in the 1970s, publishing his Ph.D. dissertation on litter dynamics and carbon cycling in the mangroves. His work is dedicated to understanding coastal marine processes and informing mangrove conservation and restoration throughout southern United States the Americas.

250px Ariel LugoDr. Ariel E. Lugo is the director of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a globally recognized leader in the field of mangrove ecology and conservation. A former professor at the University of Florida at Gainesville, he led an active research program to study ecosystem function and structure at Rookery Bay. His review paper with Samuel Snedaker, The Ecology of Mangroves (1974), was based on research conducted at Rookery Bay and has been cited more than 1,700 times. Dr. Lugo’s current interests include urban ecosystems and mangrove ecology in the Anthropocene.

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National Estuaries Day

Join us for our annual free celebration of estuaries. Enjoy boat tours, kayaking and SUP demos, food and more! This event takes place September 28, 2019

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Summer Institute for Marine Science

This weeklong program offered in August brings students into the estuary for hands-on experiences relating to ecology, marine biology, sustainability and citizen science.

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Kids FREE Fridays

Kids FREE Fridays are offered June through August with themed programs and activities that are perfect for the entire family! Registration is NOT required.

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Science Saturdays

Join us for Science Saturdays at the Environmental Learning Center each Saturday. A different coastal theme and activities each week!

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The Coastal Training Program at Rookery Bay offers a diverse selection of training opportunities for professionals. Below please find a listing of the courses that have been offered over the years, and may be offered again in the future. If there is a training that you think should be offered again, please let us know. We keep track of the trainings that are requested to help protect our coastal resources and better serve our community.

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Coastal Resilience

Landscape Professionals

Natural Resource Management

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November 14 - 16, 2018

Foundations and Frontiers in Mangrove Ecology

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In celebration of 40 years of coastal stewardship, Rookery Bay Research Reserve is hosting a symposium on mangrove research and management. Coastal professionals are invited to hear about the rich history of mangrove research in Rookery Bay and south Florida, share new research and discuss emerging technology and emerging challenges and opportunities in subtropical coastal management.  

Registration fees:

General admission: $250
Student admission (enrolled in college or university): $175
One-day admission: $100

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Call for abstracts closes November 1. Online registration has been extended to November 9. For questions about registration, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at (239) 530-5956

Symposium agenda:

Click here for detailed, printable agenda

Click here for details about the Plenary speakers

Weds. Nov. 14: at Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center
                                8 a.m. Registration and light breakfast
                                9 a.m. Plenary session, morning presentations 
                                           Lunch on site
                                1 p.m. Afternoon presentations
                           4:30 p.m. Poster session (happy hour with appetizers provided)

Thurs. Nov. 15: at FGCU Kapnick Center, Naples Botanical Garden
                          8:30 a.m. Check-in with instructions
                               9 a.m. Morning facilitated group discussions (see topics below)
                                          Lunch on site
                               1 p.m. Afternoon facilitated group discussions
                               5 p.m. Dinner on own

Fri. Nov. 16: Meeting and field trips 
                          8:30 a.m. Publication working group meeting with breakfast
                             10 a.m. Field trips depart from Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center.

Group Discussion topics: (topics can be chosen during registration)

  • Trends and tipping points (monitoring and responding to long-term change and episodic events) - full day session
  • Restoration ecology and the legacy of Roy R. (Robin) Lewis III - morning session
  • Understanding and managing for ecosystem services - afternoon session
  • Science-based adaptive management needs and solutions - full day session

Field Trip options: (box lunches provided)

  • Fruit Farm Creek Mangrove "Heart Attack" site visit with discussion of blue carbon feasibility study followed by Isles of Capri boat tour
  • Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge kayak tour
  • Boat tour of Rookery Bay and island exploration, with access to Cat's Claw trail

Symposium contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.research coordinator, 239-530-5964



Festival of Birds logoFestival of Birds
January 18 - 20, 2019

Registration opens Dec. 1 for the Festival of Birds! This annual event invites you to explore the local environment through dozens of guided field trips to wildlife hot spots around southwest Florida and lectures at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center. 

Three days of field trips, including birding walks, buggy rides and boat tours, are offered in conjunction with local partners. Field trip prices range from $0 - $150, and registration is required. 

Some of the NEW trips being offered this year include:

• Isles of Capri Paddlecraft Park: Mangrove Tunnel & Mudflat Kayak Tour 
• Keewaydin Island: Sunset to Starlight Boat Tour
• Rookery Bay Research Reserve: Bird Rookery Sunset Kayak Tour 
• Rookery Bay Research Reserve: Birding Basics Workshop 
• Rookery Bay Research Reserve: Birds of the Beach Workshop 
• Tigertail Beach: Beach Birding for Beginners 

View all field trip information 

Also new this year is the Festival Pass

The Festival Pass costs $45 (sorry, no member discounts apply). It is required for EACH INDIVIDUAL to register for field trips and entry to the ELC.  It includes:

  • Admission to ELC and on-site programs (guided trail walks, Estuary Encounter, bird films) on both Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Featured speakers on Friday and Saturday, 1 - 2 p.m. and 3 - 4 p.m. (registration encouraged)
  • Souvenir goodie bag filled with information from participating partners
  • Lunch vouchers for Friday 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. (JewBan’s Deli Dale food truck) and Saturday 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. (Brit Pit food truck) - includes meal plus drink
  • A discount on tickets purchased for the Keynote Reception and Lecture on Friday, 5:30 - 7 p.m.
We suggest you review all of the field trip details BEFORE purchasing your Festival Pass. 
View PDF showing complete festival schedule and prices.

Featured Speakers (included with Festival Pass; please register to reserve your seat)

Friday, January 18, 2019:

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• 1 - 2 p.m. The Flamingo, Florida's Forgotten Wading Bird
Anne Mauro, Avian Ecologist, Rookery Bay Research Reserve
Ever wonder how the flamingo became the cultural icon of Florida? A study by Zoo Miami’s research team has found new, surprising evidence of the American flamingos’ (Phoenicopterus ruber) status in Florida. Come learn about the history of Florida’s forgotten wading bird, and how it is making a comeback.

randy 2• 3 - 4 p.m. My 40-Year Love Affair with Birds
Randy McCormick, Naturalist and Eco-tour Guide for Rookery Bay Research Reserve
Birds offer us a pathway into a more profound “sense of place” in Nature. Birds can tease you into experiences that go far beyond the field guide or checklist. This presentation is a storyteller’s celebration of encounters with birds and the many ways they can enrich our lives.


Saturday, January 19, 2019:
AlliSmith 180• 1 - 2 p.m. Florida Burrowing Owl Research and Conservation
Alli Smith, MS Student, University of Florida
Burrowing owls are listed as "State Threatened," and are currently under threat from habitat loss in Southwest Florida. These charismatic little raptors live in grassy areas ranging from cattle fields to baseball parks, and can be found living alongside humans in Marco Island. Join UF graduate student Alli Smith to learn about burrowing owl biology, current research, local citizen science and conservation efforts.

adam headshot 180• 3 - 4 p.m. The Amazing Black Skimmer
Adam DiNuovo, Shorebird Monitoring and Stewardshp Program Manager for Audubon FL
Come learn about one of our iconic beach birds, the Black Skimmer. You will learn about the natural history of this unique bird, impacts from this years red tide and what current research is telling us.


Keynote Presentation ($10)

Friday, January 18, 2019

6 - 7 p.m. Dr. Jerry Jackson presents "Birds are Cool: Fascinating Flexibility and Far-out Adaptations of Birds in Our Changing World." Doors open at 5:30, refreshments provided. 

JAJ w binos 250The struggle for existence is often tough in the wild – particularly in today’s ever-changing world. But “survival of the fittest” has resulted in some amazing adaptations to cope with adversity. In this lecture, Dr. Jackson will focus on adaptations in anatomy and behavior of southwest Florida birds that allow them to cope with the environment they live in.

Jerome A. Jackson is Professor Emeritus of Ecological Sciences and former Whitaker Eminent Scholar in Science at Florida Gulf Coast University, and Professor Emeritus at Mississippi State University. Jerry's expertise focuses on forest and coastal ecosystems, bird management issues associated with aviation, and the history of ornithology. He is author/editor of 24 books and more than 300 articles in the professional and popular literature. Read bio

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Prospective tenants must complete the online reservation form below in order to reserve space in one of our dormitories.

Visiting Scientists

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve serves as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for students and scientists from around the world. The Visiting Scientist program encourages graduate students and other researchers to conduct their studies in the reserve -- reserve staff can draw on the expertise of these individuals when making management decisions. Current Visiting Scientist research includes studies of Burmese pythons, invasive plants, native box turtles, and nearly 100 others.

Check out our interactive map showing all current and past research projects.

To conduct research within Reserve boundaries, you must register using our Visiting Scientist Form (see link below).



Rookery Bay Reserve has various facilities available for use by Visiting Scientists. The Research wing at Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center (on Tower Road) houses a dry and a wet lab with standard lab supplies and equipment. The Shell Island Road Field Station has a newly renovated lab conveniently located next to Henderson Creek and available for necropsies and processing of field samples. A new facility is currently underway at our Ten Thousand Islands Field Station in Goodland.


dormsDormitory rooms are available at the Shell Island Road Field Station (on lower Henderson Creek) in south Naples and the Ten Thousand Islands Field Station in Goodland.These facilities are operated for the purpose of providing logistic support and overnight accommodatiions for reserve visitors conducting research, education, resource management or other projects consistent with the mission of the reserve and Florida DEP.

The Friends of Rookery Bay, Inc., a non-profit citizen support organization for the reserve, facilitates the operation of the two field stations by accepting tax-deductible fee donations to defray the costs associated with the maintenance and operation of the facilities.

All visitors are required to read and abide by the Dormitory Use Policy. In order to stay in either of our facilities it is necessary to request a reservation by completing our Dormitory Reservation Form.


 Visiting Scientist Registration

In order to better and safely accommodate the existing, and growing, population of visiting investigators, the Reserve has developed this mandatory registration form. Failure to provide accurate information or notify the front desk of excursions to remote areas will result in loss of Reserve visiting scientist privileges. 


GIS Mapping


Reserve staff use GIS (Geographic Information System) technology to map the locations of natural resources, plan for public access (camp sites, trails, protected areas), and educate the community about coastal processes and change events. 

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Post-Irma Storymap

Changing Shorelines

Story-mapping is a cool new way of using technology to see geographical changes over time. Follow the links below to see story maps depicting shoreline changes in the reserve. The images tell a powerful story.

Seventy Years of Island Dynamics

Access the 1940-2018 map here.

Access the Post-Irma map here (map credit: SERT).


Interactive Map

Research Projects and Public Access Sites

The research department has developed an interactive, web-based map application that shows the large number of science projects taking place within its boundaries. Dots on the map reference more than 570 study sites for research and monitoring programs that have been, or are currently being conducted by visiting scientists and reserve staff. Search criteria on the app include project type (staff or visiting scientist), research and monitoring categories ranging from bats to weather, as well as the project status. When a point is clicked a pop-up window explains the goals of the project, names the principal investigator and their affiliation, and shows photos if available. Dots also represent the public access sites including boat launches, walking trails and paddle trail.


Access the map here.


Habitat Story Map

Habitat Map

The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is 110,000 acres. Mapping all of the upland and benthic habitats presents many challenges due to the remoteness of these areas and the turbid water conditions. The habitat map is not perfect and is a work in progress! The interactive map allows users to view and search the various habitats in the Rookery Bay Reserve area. Users can also print and share maps of their areas of interest.



Access the map here.


Shape Files

Below please find links to some of our shape files available for you to download:

thumbnail RBNERR Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve boundary
 Download Shapefile 

thumbnail - RBAP Rookery Bay Aquatic Preserve boundary
 Download Shapefile

thumbnail CR TT AP Cape Romano – Ten Thousand Islands Aquatic Preserve boundary
 Download Shapefile


Additional Spatial Data and Tools

Helpful links for additional shapefile downloads can be found here:


Reserve staff monitor water, weather and wildlife in effort to inform management decisions by reserve managers and partners.

Learn about all of the different monitoring programs within the Reserve

Restoring the Rookery Bay Estuary

Restoring the Rookery Bay Estuary

The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR) managed a grant-funded project called Restoring the Rookery Bay Estuary: Connecting People and Science for Long-term Community Benefit from March 2011 through June 2015. The project was funded by the National Estuarine Research Reserve System’s (NERRS) Science Collaborative which is a cooperative agreement between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of New Hampshire.

Access the project details here.

Sea Turtle Incubation Temperature Study

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Temperature data loggers made by Onset (the loggers are called "HOBO") are opportunistically deployed in sea turtle nests on Keewaydin Island by Conservancy interns throughout the turtle nesting season. The study began after the Australian pine project to determine whether removing the pines affected incubation temperatures/sex ratios. 

nest temps w precip 250The study has continued in effort to examine long term temperature trends and the role environmental factors (rain, air temperature, storm events, climate change) play in determining hatchling sex. Reference loggers are also deployed in the sand along Keewaydin to record temperatures throughout the nesting season. For the past several years, loggers have also been deployed on Cape Romano so sand temperatures can be compared to Keewaydin. In 2013, Sea turtle license plate funds made it possible to include Sea Oat Island in the comparative study.

Partnership: Conservancy of Southwest Florida

Why it's Important: Keewaydin appears to be producing male hatchlings regularly which makes it a very important nesting ground. Nests on the east coast of Florida are producing mainly female biased clutches so Keewaydin is supplying the South Florida Nesting Subpopulation with much needed males. This is one of the longest and most intensive incubation temperature studies of its kind and is contributing invaluable data into the professional community. The data are also being used to educate the public on the anthropogenic and environmental factors that influence sea turtle nests. Data were published in 2008 and have been presented at several of the Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation conferences. 

As of July 2018, 1,139 temperature data loggers have been deployed in sea turtle nests with the help of Conservancy interns.

Data Logger Website

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