Rookery Bay Reserve in Naples is one area of Southwest Florida that we hope never to see development. This Estuarine Reserve covers over 100,000 acres of islands, waterways, mangroves, scrub, and bays including 1500 acres purchased by Dellora and Lester Norris in 1980 and established as a nature sanctuary.
This estuarine reserve is where freshwater flows down and meets saltwater in tranquil Rookery Bay. Along with other areas of natural significance in Collier, Charlotte, Lee, Hendry, and Glades counties, the bay is managed by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. It was founded in 1964 for the protection of water, land, and wildlife in the area.
Wildlife Tours in Rookery Bay
The only way to really explore this area is by boat with a Coast Guard certified captain and a knowledgeable local naturalist from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. It’s a wonderful way to get out on the calm bay waters and see some of the remarkable wildlife up-close.
After a short welcome talk, your boat cruise will depart from the docks of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida on Shell Island Road in Naples. Your sharp-eyed naturalist will soon be pointing out wading herons, soaring bald eagles and nesting ospreys, particularly in spring. Their favorite nesting site is on top of the signboards warning of minimum speeds in manatee areas!
The bay is home to over 150 species of birds including pelicans, ospreys, ibis, blue herons, night herons, and many birds of prey. The waters are teeming with many types of fish such as snook, mangrove snapper, tarpon, redfish, and spotted sea trout as well as crabs, dolphins, turtles, and manatees. The mangrove forests and uplands are home to deer, bobcats, raccoons, armadillos, and many threatened and endangered species. You may not get to see them all, but you will learn about them, along with facts about the importance of mangroves, the local fishing industry, and why birds gather together in rookeries.
Rookery Bay is also a breeding ground for insects and mosquitos, so you should definitely use bug repellent on skin and clothing before departing on your boat trip. A hat, bottle of water, sunscreen, and a camera are also recommended.
Eco-tours in Southwest Florida
The Good Fortune II is kept busy offering a selection of eco-tours around Rookery Bay. The boat holds up to 35 passengers on bench seating beneath a shady canopy. There are great views from all seats of the open-sided boat and plenty of photo opportunities.
There are several informative eco-tours offered by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida:
Daily Lunch Cruises run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily and include a one hour stop for lunch on the Isle of Capri. The cost of lunch is not included in the boat trip, which starts at $37 for conservancy members and $47 for non-members with discounts for children. Reservations are required.
Sunset Cruises are offered five days a week from December 15 to April 30. The bay setting is idyllic and peaceful as shadows lengthen and the sun sets in a fiery glow over the Gulf of Mexico. Bring a small cooler with a drink and snack and enjoy the moment as egrets and herons return to the rookery and insects begin their evening hum as the sun goes down on another perfect Florida day. Sunset cruises last for two hours and departure times vary according to sunset times. Prices are from $37 for conservancy members and $47 for adults as above.
Private charters aboard the Good Fortune II are also available. What better way to celebrate a special birthday, family reunion or wedding than appreciating the unspoiled natural beauty of Florida at its best. Social clubs, businesses, and groups will all enjoy this eco-adventure in beautiful Rookery Bay, Naples.
Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Interactive Nature Center
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center’s discovery center features a touch tank, live sea turtle display, a 5,000-gallon patch-reef aquarium, daily nature programs, and wildlife hospital exhibits. Abundant learning opportunities for the entire family and is designated as site No. 69 on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
The Conservancy of SWFL also offers free informative and relaxing 45-minute electric boat tours along the Gordon River with Nature Center admission. Tour boats depart daily (schedule changes seasonally and is subject to weather) between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Kayak rentals and excursions are also available for a fee.
No visit is complete without a visit to the Bradley Nature Store to select from nature-inspired gifts, toys, jewelry, hats, art, cards, and one of the best selections of environmental books available in Naples. Read Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center’s featured blog article here!
(Please note all prices listed are based on March 2017 rates).