What Makes Rookery Bay a Special Place
Locations that are traditionally used for nesting and raising young birds are called rookeries. At Rookery Bay Reserve, there are nesting areas where most water birds roost nightly in, usually there are multi-species groups on small mangrove islands. The leafy canopy of mangrove trees provides an important habitat for a variety of bird life. The birds that use these mangrove rookeries include several species of Herons, Egrets, Frigate birds, Cormorants, and Pelicans.
Rookery Bay Reserve protects 110,000 acres of coastal lands and waters at the northern end of the Ten Thousand Islands on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve represents one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America. An estuary is a coastal body of water, where fresh water draining from land mixes with salt water from the sea. Estuaries are areas of high productivity, providing nurseries for many species of fish, including feeding and resting grounds for local and migratory birds.
The Rookery Bay and Ten Thousand Islands ecosystem are a prime example of a nearly pristine subtropical mangrove forested estuary. The mangrove’s roots provide structure and shelter for juvenile fish. Because the leaves of mangrove trees are constantly being shed, they provide an important food source for aquatic consumers called detritus. Mangrove leaves and twigs that fall into the water attract algae and bacteria, also known as decomposers. These microscopic organisms break down the leaves and serve as food for small invertebrates like worms and crabs, which, in turn, are fed upon by small fish, and so on.
Very popular mammals in these waters are dolphins and manatees. They can be found year-round in the waters of Rookery Bay. The manatee is a slow-moving marine mammal weighing around 1,300 pounds. They typically remain submerged for 3-4 minutes grazing in shallow water on aquatic vegetation.