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Public Use Issues at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Quick Topics


  • Ensure user experiences are sustainable and consistent with natural and cultural resource protection for the benefit of existing and future generations relative to public use patterns.

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR) provides important opportunities for compatible recreational use such as hiking, boating, camping and fishing that in turn provide significant economic benefits to the local community. The unprecedented rate of population growth experienced in Collier County correlates with a significant increase in public use of RBNERR resources. The intensity of public beach and inshore waters use within specific areas such as Keewaydin Island and Cape Romano has resulted in a significant increase in the frequency of incompatible public use and related damage to wildlife and essential habitats. These impacts also degrade the wilderness experience that many visitors come to RBNERR to enjoy.

Staff and volunteers continue to note periodic boat-related disturbances at rookeries in RBNERR; although the frequency and intensity of disturbances at the ABC Islands bird rookery has diminished significantly as a result of the establishment of an enforced No Entry Critical Wildlife Area. Boat related deaths of manatees continue to be a problem within RBNERR waters, as a result of impacts with boat hulls traveling at high speed, or as a result of injuries sustained from engine propellers. RBNERR staff also report increasing evidence of long-term damage to essential submerged habitats such as seagrass beds as a result of prop dredging from boats operating in the shallow waters of RBNERR.

Boats and tents on the beach

Boating access and recreational use of barrier island beaches within RBNERR, such as Keewaydin Island and Cape Romano, represents a key economic contribution to the local community. Camping activity by boaters is increasing, including the frequency, number, and duration of overnight campers utilizing beach sites within RBNERR. Examples of incompatible use associated with intensive beach use by boaters/campers include loss of wildlife from unleashed dogs, destruction of wetlands and beach habitats for campfires, deposition of human waste and trash, and increasing evidence of human conflicts from too many people targeting the same sites for camping or recreational use.

Upland and wetland habitats show continuing evidence of off-road vehicle use, which is prohibited within RBNERR due to the potential for causing ruts and alterations to freshwater sheetflow. Upland areas of RBNERR periodically are used for the illegal dumping of trash, and more recently for paint ball activities involving the documented destruction of forested habitats. Incompatible consumptive uses of RBNERR by the public, such as illegal hunting/poaching, plant and live shell collecting, and removal of artifacts, can result in serious cumulative negative impacts to RBNERR's natural and cultural resources.

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

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Last updated: April 06, 2015

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