Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Florida

Source: NOAA


caption Rookery Bay Reserve boundary map. (Source: NERRS)

Located at the northern end of the Ten Thousand Islands on the gulf coast of Florida, the Rookery Bay Reserve represents one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America.

An amazing world exists within the 110,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest, uplands and protected waters of Rookery Bay. Where rivers and streams meet the sea, a unique habitat is formed. A myriad of wildlife, including 150 species of birds and many threatened and endangered animals, thrive in the estuarine environment and surrounding upland hammocks and scrub found within the Reserve.

The mission of the Reserve is to provide a basis for informed coastal decisions through land management, restoration research and education. The Reserve works in partnership with local communities to promote coastal stewardship.

The Rookery Bay Research Reserve is one within the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), a network of estuarine habitats protected and managed for the purposes of long-term research, education, and coastal stewardship. It is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Rookery Bay and Ten Thousand Islands ecosystem is a prime example of a nearly pristine subtropical mangrove-forested estuary. RBNERR is located in the West Florida subregion of the West Indian Biogeographic Region. The total estimated surface area of open waters encompassed within proposed boundaries is 70,000 acres, 64 percent of RBNERR. The remaining 40,000 acres are composed primarily of mangroves, fresh to brackish water marshes, and upland habitats. Rookery Bay has a surface area of 1,034 acres and a mean depth of about 1 meters (m). Salinities range from 18.5 to 39.4 parts per thousand with lower values occurring during the wet season from May through October. Highest values occur during the dry seasons (winter and spring) and can exceed those of the open Gulf of Mexico (35-36 parts per thousand).

Approximately 3,772 acres within the RBNERR boundaries are leased to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), The Nature Conservancy, and CSF. State-owned lands, including 70,000 acres of submerged lands and approximately 22,928 acres of acquired lands, are held in fee simple title by the Board of Trustees. Approximately 13,300 additional acres within the boundaries were acquired by the state as part of a settlement agreement with the Deltona Corporation. Parcels totaling approximately 500 acres represent privately-owned inholdings within RBNERR. DEP has proposed for NOAA consideration that the boundaries of the RBNERR be expanded to incorporate adjacent state-owned coastal and submerged lands. DEP has designated all tidally connected waters within the boundaries of RBNERR and Cape Romano/Ten Thousand Islands Aquatic Preserves as Class II and Outstanding Florida Waters (OFW). OFW designation implements the state's highest standards for proposed developments, and does not allow for direct discharges that would lower ambient water quality, or indirect discharges that would significantly degrade water quality.

Resource Management

caption (Source: NERRS)

The reserve’s stewardship activities were initiated in 1990 and a formal staffed program was developed in 1993 to address the stewardship, restoration and land acquisition needs for the reserve. Since that time, this program has worked effectively to maintain the ecological integrity of the reserve to provide a stable environment for research and education consistent with the National Estuarine Research Reserve System mission. Key elements of the Rookery Bay Reserve resource protection strategy include:

  • Facilitating public acquisition of key lands associated with the Rookery Bay and Ten Thousand Islands ecosystems to help ensure long-term preservation of resources
  • Identifying essential habitats within Rookery Bay Reserve
  • Working in cooperation with federal and state agencies to protect listed species such as the West Indian manatee, American crocodile, Florida scrub jay and loggerhead sea turtle
  • Working with the regulatory and development community to address potential impacts associated with planned development projects within the watersheds of the reserve
  • Designing and conducting restoration of disturbed wetlands, altered watershed inflows and plant communities infested with invasive non-native plants

The reserve's resource management program is responsible for implementing science-based management strategies to conserve natural biodiversity while protecting natural resources. Identification and documentation of cultural and historical sites within the reserve and a comprehensive prescribed fire program developed to maintain the natural fire regime are two examples of these ongoing efforts.


caption (Source: NERRS)

The reserve's research program provides the scientific information necessary to support an adaptive management strategy for conservation of natural biodiversity for the area managed by the reserve. This strategy entails:

  • Identifying areas of scientific uncertainty
  • Planning and conducting field experiments to test hypotheses related to real-world management strategies
  • Exporting this information to environmental managers and decision makers
  • Recommending improved management strategies based on the results of these experiments

A primary function of the research program is to develop and monitor indicators of natural biodiversity at the levels of watershed, community, population and organism. This science-based hierarchical approach is necessary to more effectively manage the reserve's natural resources and assess, prioritize and improve the effectiveness of future habitat restoration projects. To be successful, these activities are closely coordinated with the reserve's resource management, public access and education programs.

Partners and Supporters

The Rookery Bay Reserve is guided by a three-member management board with representatives from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, The Conservancy, Inc., and the National Audubon Society.

Friends of Rookery Bay is a non-profit support group for the reserve. Volunteers contribute thousands of hours annually to the reserve in support of research, restoration, education and stewardship projects.

Further Reading

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



(2006). Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Florida. Retrieved from


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