Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is known for its 110,000 acres of mangrove forests, uplands, and protected waters, but there is something special about the aquariums displayed at the Reserve's Environmental Learning Center (ELC). Geoff Trager, Rookery Bay Reserve's Aquatic Systems Biologist/Aquarist, works behind the scenes to keep every organism living in the ELC happy and healthy by using advanced technology to create a naturalistic ecosystem.
Trager is in charge of running five display aquariums, each holding one or more unique specimens found in the Reserve, one 2,300-gallon mangrove aquarium, and the ever-popular Touch Tank. These aquariums may look like any other fish tanks, however they employ a special, more natural filtration system.
Trager uses a biological method of filtering the tanks in addition to more traditional, mechanical filtering systems. Behind the scenes, natural filtering processes mimic those that take place in the mangrove ecosystem. The way it works: water flows slowly over sand and rock substrates covered with live, beneficial bacteria. These beneficial bacteria are very common in nature and play a role in breaking down and cycling organic matter. These beneficial bacteria are especially useful in the aquarium because they prevent the buildup of harmful compounds that come from fish waste or any organic matter that decomposes in the aquarium. The water is further purified by flowing through a bed of marine algae located in the filtration system under a grow light. This mimics the process of plants filtering water in natural outdoor ecosystems by taking up nutrients used for growth.
Nearly thirty years ago a science teacher, a college professor, an attorney, and a real estate agent formed a steering committee to establish The Friends of Rookery Bay. They each donated $10 cash towards the filing fee. They were among a
handful of local residents who'd made a connection with this coastal environment and cared about the future of Rookery Bay. They wanted do something to help ensure the education programs that their students and children enjoyed continued to grow.
Established just ten years earlier, the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve has weathered many storms, both environmental and financial - and the Friends have saved the day. Today I am pleased to say the Friends include nearly 700 members and is considered to be one of the largest Citizen Support Organizations in Florida. The Friends play an instrumental role in working directly with the Reserve which now manages 110,000 acres of lands and waters with 40 staff.
My Board is dedicated to generating more community involvement through our volunteer program and outreach efforts as well as attracting more members.
An exciting new partnership with China Rilin Industrial Group, a private corporation based in China, to conduct one of the largest mangrove wetland restoration projects in Florida, was recently announced by the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The Reserve is a 110,000-acre wildlife sanctuary in Collier County, managed by the State of Florida, and supported by The Friends of Rookery Bay.
Mangroves are a vitally important refuge and food source for marine wildlife including birds, fish, and shellfish, while supporting our local economy through tourism, sport fishing and commercial harvest.
Wenliang Wang, Chairman of China Rilin Group, is donating $4.5 million to fund the restoration of 64 acres of dead mangroves near Goodland and Marco Island. Recent studies, conducted by Rookery Bay scientists in collaboration with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Coastal Resources Group (CRG), concluded the die-off area was caused by the construction of State Road 92 in the 1930s with the subsequent loss of tidal flows so important to sustaining the health of mangroves.
Rookery Bay Reserve resource management staff was busy the first weekend in January helping FWC rescue and recover manatees that were showing signs of red tide stress. This one, found near Isles of Capri, was taken to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo for rehabilitation and is expected to make a full recovery.
Join us for an afternoon with mangrove experts from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Cost to attend is $35, or free for Friends of Rookery Bay and Smithsonian members. Event includes lecture in the auditorium at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center and guided walk on the Snail Trail.
Nearly 70% of the world's population lives in coastal areas where mangroves and saltmarshes dominate the landscape. Mangroves and saltmarshes are among the most productive ecosystems on Earth, supporting the coasts' diverse wildlife and economic resources. But climate change and nutrient over-enrichment are altering the balance. Some of the most rapid climate-induced change seems to be happening where mangrove forests are encroaching into the saltmarshes. At the same time, nutrient pollution from human sources is a major threat to coastal systems around the world. How these two ecosystems respond will likely have major but still mysterious consequences for both nature and society.
"Candy" Feller is an Ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and has a B.A. in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a Ph.D. in Biology from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Her research is focused on the biology of animal-plant interactions in mangrove ecosystems. She has worked in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mexico, Belize, Panama, Brazil, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Candy and her collaborators have established a coordinated distributed network of +20 fertilization experiments around the world, to investigate the impact of nutrient over-enrichment on the structure and function of mangrove ecosystems and the interaction with climate change. She is the PI on two multidisciplinary research projects funded by the NSF Macrosystem Biology Program and NASA's Climate Change Program focused on the consequence of climate change on mangroves. Candy is an Adjunct Professor at Florida Atlantic University and has also taught numerous marine ecology field courses for undergraduate and graduate students, teachers, and resource managers in the Neotropics and has developed a Mangrove Virtual Tour to educate the public on mangrove ecology.
Leaves rustling on a light breeze in harmony with twittering songbirds. A mullet splashing out of a brackish bay. Slivers of sunlight dappling the leafy ground. There are many sights and sounds to enjoy in southwest Florida.
Throughout the seasons residents and visitors can enjoy nature hikes, paddling, birding and photography on hundreds of thousands of acres that are protected as conservation lands. As temperatures drop, the environment welcomes new arrivals from the north, many of which have flown here on their own two wings.
Now in its 12th year, the Southwest Florida Nature Festival at Rookery Bay invites human snowbirds –and residents -- to get out and experience wildlife across many habitats. Almost 40 guided field trips to 20 wildlife hot spots are offered in conjunction with partners such as Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Area, and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
Whether you wish to explore a swamp, marsh, scrub or beach, the Nature Festival has a field trip for you. Trips meet at sunrise, sunset and many times in between. If you'd prefer not to walk, you can tour on a bike, buggy, boat or kayak. Each trip is led by an expert, and all trips have a limited number of spaces to ensure a quality learning and viewing experience for all involved. Trips are reasonably priced, starting from just $10, and online registration is easy at www.rookerybay.org/learn/swfl-nature-festival.html
One new experience this year is Get Fire-flyed Up, an evening firefly walk at Big Cypress National Preserve. Ranger Luke will unveil the mysteries surrounding nature's flashing beacons and engage participants in recording their backyard observations to help scientists studying firefly population trends across North America.
Prescribed fire is an important tool for natural resource managers in southwest Florida. Within Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, thousands of acres of fire-dependent habitat are managed each year with the help of regional partners and crews from the Prescribed Fire Training Center (PFTC) in Tallahassee.
“We rely on partners for a lot of what we do here,” said Resource Management Coordinator Jeff Carter, who is responsible for overseeing the reserve’s prescribed fire program. Rookery Bay Reserve staff coordinate burn activities with the Florida Forestry Service, and work with partnering land managers and local fire departments to get the job done safely and efficiently. “We are glad we can help them, and get help at the same time,” he added, noting that this infusion of fire fighter trainees has been extremely beneficial for the reserve.