The occasional dolphin and manatee are the only living things likely to come within six feet of you while enjoying an ecotour in Rookery Bay Research Reserve in Naples. That makes exploring by boat or kayak a great way to practice social distancing while enjoying fresh air, sunshine or moonlight, and the beauty of Southwest Florida’s coastal environment.
Friends of Rookery Bay runs daily kayak tours for up to 12 people as well as private small boat tours for up to six passengers in one family. All tours take place in calm, shallow waters that average about two feet of depth. Kayak rentals are also available with delivery spots throughout Naples and Marco Island, with the most popular locations at the Isles of Capri Paddlecraft Park and the end of Shell Island Road.
“Kayaking has been described as a 360 degree experience,” said Athan Barkoukis, Friends of Rookery Bay executive director. “It’s a great way to get up close with the mangroves, oyster beds, birds and marine life that rely on the 110,000 acre Rookery Bay Research Reserve.” Tours are led by biologists and master naturalists who share their enthusiasm for nature with tour guests.
Three kayak tours are offered: Heart of Rookery Bay, Mangrove Tunnels and Mudflats, and Sunset Bird Rookery. Rookery Bay Research Reserve is home to more than 150 species of birds, including many who spend the winter in Naples or use the reserve as a stop as they migrate. Kayak tours last two to three hours. There are single kayaks as well as tandem kayaks that can accommodate children ages three and up.
Boat tours go through the reserve with some stopping at Keewaydin Island, which is only accessible by boat, or at the highest spot in the reserve. Boat tours include Life’s a Beach Barrier Island Shelling, Essence of the Estuary Eco-cruise, High Points Ancient Island Excursion, Sunset to Full Moon, and Sunset Bird Rookery Boat Cruise. Boat tours also last two to three hours. The minimum age is three years old. Friends of Rookery Bay has two boats, including a pontoon boat that is ADA compliant.
“Committed to the Paradise Pledge, your health and safety are our #1 priority,” said Barkoukis. “Our tours are family friendly and follow CDC guidelines for sanitizing equipment. We hope families will come out and make memories together on their own private tour.” With the increased interest in being outdoors, Friends of Rookery Bay is planning new ecotours that will launch this season. Visit rookerybay.org or follow Friends of Rookery Bay on Instagram and Facebook for an announcement soon.
Friends of Rookery Bay is a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose proceeds support environmental education, research and conservation work in the 110,000-acre Rookery Bay Research Reserve, which encompasses 40 percent of Collier County’s coastline from downtown Naples through the Western Everglades.
Funds are raised through ecotours, membership, adopt-a-sea-turtle nest program, online nature store, and the annual Bash for the Bay signature event, which takes place March 20, 2021. Book a tour or learn more at rookerybay.org or call 239.530.5972