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Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve - Public Use and Access Quick Topics

Tourism is one of the largest economic industries in Florida, and Lee County is no exception. Staff remain attentive to recreational activities within the aquatic preserve to identify and try to minimize potential resource/public use conflicts and to maintain high quality recreational opportunities.

Lee County has 590 miles of shoreline, 50 miles of white sand beaches and 238 square miles (652,000 acres) of water. As such, local waters and surrounding uplands are a natural draw for many visitors to southwest Florida. There are 12 marinas within a one-mile radius of Estero Bay, and six canoe/kayak launches within two miles of the aquatic preserve. Boating is popular with tourists and residents alike. In Lee County there were 43,618 boats registered in 2011. With so many boats on the water, impacts to natural resources have become a concern, such as propeller scars in seagrass beds. The increased boat numbers and threat to seagrass further strengthen the case to mark the No Internal Combustion Motor Zones to preserve and protect the resources. Boats are also a hazard to manatees, with 18 water-craft related fatalities in 2016.

Besides motorized vessels, canoes, kayaks, and personal sailboats have also increased in number within the bay in recent years, partly due to the establishment of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail. This 190-mile canoe and kayak trail, divided into three distinct segments, meanders through the coastal waters and inland tributaries of Lee County. Estero Bay was the first region marked, and since that time has enjoyed an increasing popularity with canoe and kayak enthusiasts.

Geocaching has also become a popular past-time for adventurous individuals, groups, or families. However, improper cache placement can result in damage to natural resources or disturbance of nesting colonies. Although geocache guidelines stipulate to get authorization from the landowner, most general users of the bay do not know that they are in an aquatic preserve, they may be unaware of who to contact. Unfortunately, it is cost prohibitive to place signage at all possible access points leading into the bay.

Kids seining

Children use seine nets to collect creatures inhabiting Estero Bay's seagrass beds during a wading trip led by aquatic preserve staff.

Debris is a continuous challenge within the aquatic preserve. Fishing line, in particular, is of critical concern to colonial water bird populations, as well as to other species. Animal entanglement is a problem as abandoned line caught among mangroves and manmade structures is prevalent around the estuary. Derelict vessels also litter portions of the bay, creating potential navigational and environmental hazards. Local agencies and organizations, including Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve staff and their CSO, Estero Bay Buddies, work tirelessly to remove these and other forms of debris from the aquatic preserve through events such as Coastal Clean-ups and Monofilament Madness.

In addition, public education and stewardship is vital to addressing the problem and helping to maintain and even improve the health of the bay. High resident turnover rates and tourism-based recreation mean that education and outreach is a continuous effort. To this end, aquatic preserve staff regularly join Estero Bay Buddies in public awareness efforts, attending various outreach events, and facilitating public education efforts regarding minimization of user impacts on the environment. Staff also provide educational materials at events or through user groups such as ecotourism providers and homeowner associations. Furthermore wading trips, which are provided free to the public at various times throughout the spring season, are an engaging and educational experience that take participants on a refreshing journey into the waters of the bay, and provide the public with firsthand knowledge of how the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve helps to protect the bay’s natural resources.  

Last updated: December 09, 2016

  3900 Commonwealth Boulevard M.S. 235 Tallahassee, Florida 32399 850-245-2094
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