by Brigid O’Malley
Estuary: (n) est-CHEW’-airy, a partly-enclosed body of water, in the form of a bay, lagoon or slough, which is fed by a freshwater source.
Estuaries are special places where rivers meet the sea, where fresh water from land meets and mixes with salt water from the sea. Estuaries can take the shape of a bay, slough, lagoon, or river delta, and are found all along our coast.
Many species of marine life use estuaries as breeding grounds, which is why estuaries are also known as the cradle of the ocean, or nursery of the sea. Roughly 80 percent of commercially- and recreationally-important fish and shellfish species rely on an estuary during early life stages, and this natural factory is as productive as a rain forest.
Estuaries are also important because they buffer the mainland from storm events, protect water quality by filtering runoff, and provide recreational opportunities for people. An entire network of protected areas called National Estuarine Research Reserves was established by the federal government to protect estuaries because they are so important.
In southwest Florida, the Rookery Bay estuary was recognized as a special place by local residents, many of whom were descendants of post-
Civil War pioneers who settled in the Little Marco Settlement around the turn of the century. A grassroots movement to protect Rookery Bay
from development resulted in its designation as a National Estuarine Research Reserve in 1978. It has grown over the years to 110,000 acres of nearly pristine lands and waters along the Gulf of Mexico known as the western Everglades.
Every year, National Estuaries Day celebrations nationwide extend a variety of opportunities for residents and visitors to experience these special places where rivers meet the sea. Typically held on the last Saturday in September, these events usually include activities ranging from guided tours and mudflat walks to cast netting demonstrations, nature films, tactile experiences with many forms of marine life and more.
Rookery Bay’s National Estuaries Day celebration takes place at the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center on Sat., Sept. 26.
Join us for our FREE annual celebration of the 28 national estuarine research reserves. Enjoy staff-narrated boat tours, introductory 30-minute kayaking trips, paddleboarding on Henderson Creek, a marine critter touch tank, live animal presentations and educational booths. Additionally, there will be crafts and activities for children, behind-the-scenes tours of the science labs, films, food, a special art
exhibition, and more.
Learn more at www.rookerybay.org.