MARCO ISLAND — Along with the nation's other NERRs, or National Estuarine Research Reserves, Rookery Bay celebrated National Estuaries Day on Saturday. The Reserve offered a host of displays, lectures and activities, all to allow people to understand the vital role that estuaries play in the life and health of our natural surroundings.
On Henderson Creek, volunteers led groups of kayakers on half hour guided paddle trips, giving them a closeup look at a mangrove estuary. The excursion boat Good Fortune carried boatloads out into Rookery Bay itself, to view the multitude of birds in their natural habitat.
A crew from the Old Naples Surf Shop brought paddleboards and instructors, offering another way to get out on the water. Naturalist volunteer Susan Cone led groups across the footbridge spanning Henderson Creek, exploring the woods on the other side. And a camera crew in a skiff buzzed around, documenting all the activity for an update on the Reserve's informational video.
In the backyard behind the Environmental Learning Center (ELC), volunteers showed off some of the area's notable inhabitants, including a two-year old alligator with his mouth taped shut, skulls including wild hogs and crocodiles, and the skin of a python that would have measured over 21 feet long when still living. Russell's Clambakes catered the food.
Although autumn has officially arrived, the temperature and humidity outside said summer. Showing a group of paddleboarders the rudiments of paddling yourself while standing up, instructor Emily Troisi cautioned against standing on the dock in bare feet, and getting out on the water was a relief.
"There's a big difference between sitting and standing," between paddling a canoe or a kayak versus a paddleboard, said Sharda Spahr of Old Naples Surf Shop. "Standing up, you get your core involved, and your legs as well as your arms. It's a whole body workout."
With the heat outside, the activities inside the ELC proved very popular for the over four hundred visitors who showed up. Fishing guide and television host turned artist Alex Suescun gave a backwater fishing seminar in the auditorium, sharing tips on how to be one of the ten percent of the fishermen who catch 90 percent of the fish, rather than vice versa.
Just like the people outside in the sun, temperature is critical for fish and fishing, he told his audience. A difference of under two degrees in water temperature can explain why there is no action at your favorite fishing spot.
Outside the auditorium, Suescun's paintings, drawing on his experience in the world of angling, were on display, and on sale at discounted prices. His television show "Tarpon Bay Tales" aired nationwide from 1999 to 2010. The exhibit of his artwork, entitled "Florida Fish and Game Art Fusion," will be on view at Rookery Bay through Nov. 9.
Face painting was the big thrill for sisters Avery and Paige Anstead, ages 6 and 4, who visited Estuaries Day with their friend Sophia Lucky and their mom Amy Anstead.
"We liked the fiddler crabs, the skulls and bones, and the mosquitoes," said Amy. In addition to the enormous three-dimensional replica of a mosquito hovering overhead, the exhibit included a netting full of live mosquitoes, with a hole for a researcher to poke their arm into, which opportunity Sarah Falkowski, Rookery Bay's Education Coordinator, declined.
Elsewhere in the ELC, children got to take the wheel of a mocked-up fishing boat, peer into the touch tank, and marvel at the blown up model of a batfish, which Rookery Bay has taken as their mascot.
National Estuaries Day is just one day, but at Rookery Bay, every day is estuaries day. The ELC is there waiting for you, when you want to learn more about our natural surroundings. The Rookery Bay ELC is located at 300 Tower Road, just off Collier Blvd. shortly before U.S. 41. For more information, call (239) 417-6310, or visit rookerybay.org.