When most people think of Florida, visions of beaches, Disneyworld, or the infamous party life of Miami often come to mind first. I have to admit, I was one of those people. Despite having visited Florida more times than I can count growing up, there was still so much of this state I had yet to discover. Little did I know, it had so much to offer…

On my recent trip to Florida I had the chance to take part in a kayak tour¬†through Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve which is located in Collier County. I can honestly say that after completing this little adventure, I have a better understanding and appreciation for mangroves and their importance to Florida’s coastal ecosystem.

Collier County, which includes the cities of Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City is the largest County in the State with a total area of 2,305 square miles, and a land area of 2,025 square miles. Almost 80% of that is set aside as preserve lands, including Rookery Bay.

Both of our guides were not only knowledgable about the area, but incredibly passionate about it too. This is a rare thing to find, and another reason why I think I enjoyed the tour so much. After getting acquainted with our kayaks and learning the proper way to paddle, our guides led us through mangroves and oyster bars where I learned some pretty interesting things.

This is an incredibly sensitive and remarkable ecosystem; where freshwater mixes with saltwater from the ocean creating an explosion of life with a tremendous amount of biological activity. Unfortunately North America has lost a lot of it, so reserves like Rookery Bay are in place to protect it, conduct research, and educate the general public.

I never knew that mangroves began as oyster bars and it was fascinating to kayak right up to one. Oysters also act as water filters pumping out clean water (up to 50 gallons of water a day!) serving as the kidneys to this whole ecosystem. Mangrove leaves fall into the water creating a biofilm on the leaf which provides food for the marine life in the area. This is incredibly important to the whole pyramid of the food web (which eventually makes it’s way to our stomachs). Since Florida has seen such a decline in this marine life, it’s now state law that you can’t trim or cut a mangrove even if it’s on your own property.

Aside from the educational portion of the trip, this tour was also incredibly relaxing. It was magical going through some of the mangrove areas hearing nothing but the sounds of birds and my paddle dipping in and out of the water. I managed to capture some video of my experience in hopes to provide a better taste of my morning:

 

If you’re planning a trip to Florida, I highly recommend taking a kayak tour through Rookery Bay. A fun little bonus as well is that when your tour is done, you get free admission to the Rookery Bay Educational Learning Center down the street which is also worth checking out. I left not only with an appreciation of Florida’s coastal ecosystems, but for people like Rick and Walt who are passionate about showcasing their beautiful state and what makes it so special.

 

For more info on these kayak tours, visit www.rookerybay.org