As part of an ongoing project, Erika Zambello is visiting all National Estuarine Research Reserves in the continental United States. Established by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the sites work together toward long-term research, education and coastal stewardship.
Mangrove estuaries are fast disappearing in the United States. Kayaking through Rookery Bay – which preserves one example of this important habitat – it’s easy to see how rich in biodiversity these ecosystems truly are. As part of a tour group, I spotted American oystercatchers, white ibises, a roseate spoonbill and dolphins. While shadowing a high school field trip the next day, we waded in the shallows seeking mollusk and fish species.
The Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve offers multiple opportunities for the public to experience this habitat. In addition to kayak tours and school groups, the reserve runs an impressive nature center, complete with large-scale replicas of unique estuary species, such as the polka-dot batfish. Trails take walkers across Henderson Creek and into riparian forest, where I spotted warblers and a pileated woodpecker. A film presents yet another view of the estuary ecosystem, showcasing the natural area from above. They even offer estuary-themed art classes!
At the reserve, ground-breaking science and data collection is paired with hands-on experiences to encourage not only visiting the resource but also protecting it. From the youngest child to the octogenarian, there is something for everyone to discover here.