Rookery Bay Ecotours Are Rewarding, in More Ways Than One

The Takeaway: An innovative public-private partnership supports the work of the Rookery Bay Research Reserve while fostering estuary education and stewardship.

An exciting new chapter in ecotourism and environmental education enables up to 32 guided kayak tours and eight boat tours weekly to explore the 110,000-acre Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. These forays support stewardship and the coastal economy, with the yearly potential to generate more than $1 million and serve 13,000-plus paddlers and passengers. An agreement—by Rookery Bay Research Reserve, Friends of Rookery Bay, and Rising Tide Explorers, an ecotourism operator—directs some profits to Friends of Rookery Bay, ultimately benefiting the reserve’s education, stewardship, and research programs.

Led by local biologists, certified naturalists, and certified kayaking instructors from Rising Tide Explorers, the tours feature up-close opportunities to learn about the reserve’s beaches, mangrove tunnels, rookery islands, mudflats, and oyster reefs. Rising Tide Explorers is ranked as the top attraction by TripAdvisor for southwestern Florida. The partnership that makes these tours possible could serve as a blueprint for similar partnerships at other research reserves throughout the U.S. (2020)

Partners: Friends of Rookery Bay, Rising Tide Explorers, and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve