Posted by: soniahs | February 8, 2011

Estero Bay Preserve State Park: one of 53

Estero Bay Preserve State Park is one of 53 Florida State Parks proposed for closure in order to overcome budget shortfalls this year. This is one of very few Florida state parks centered on an aquatic area- in this case, Estero Bay, located just south of the massive sprawl of Cape Coral/Fort Myers in Southwest Florida. This part of the state is one of the current foreclosure capitals of the nation; abandoned homes and half-planned developments now blight the landscape here. Estero Bay Preserve is one of a handful of protected areas in the region.

Map of Estero Bay (FL Parks)

I’ve never been into the hiking trails of the preserve, which run through a variety of habitats and provide homes to venerable gopher tortoises, delicate orchids, powerful bald eagles, and many other species. I’ve also never gone kayaking among the sheltering mangrove islands, sturdy oyster reefs, and prehistoric Native American shell middens of the bay. However, I have been birding along the protected shoreline.

Sunset over Estero Scrub (Photo: FL Parks)

In December of 2007, we went for a walk along the beach at Estero Bay. As I recall, the tide was pretty low, so the exposed mudflats and sand were attracting a wide array of bird life despite the beach’s popularity with people. There were no doubt munching manatees and frolicking dolphins in the area, as well as a bunch of other species that we just didn’t see. For example, we saw a bunch of these critters hanging around in the shallow water- I think it’s a sea cucumber, but maybe someone else will be able to I.D. it:

Sea cucumber?

As we walked along the mudflats and through the shallow water, we watched out for stingrays and broken shells. I found a dying man-o-war (which we stayed a respectful distance away from) and Yan found several living sand dollars (which we left to do their thing).

My eBird list for the day records that I saw 21 species. Nothing too rare, given the type of habitat, but a fair variety of species:  wood storks soaring overhead, Wilson’s plovers dashing on the sand, reddish egrets dancing for fish, short-billed dowitchers poking for worms, and so on. If we’d visited in the early morning, before the arrival of swimmers, there probably would have been many more birds to see. There were a fair number of fishermen, as well as swimmers:

Little blue heron & snowy egret watching the fishermen.

This estuary is a rich habitat for many different species, and provides a wealth of recreational opportunities for local residents and visitors alike. I’d assume that “closing” this park would mean closing the interpretive parts of the park, the kayak rentals, and access to trails, while keeping the aquatic areas open for boating and fishing. Unfortunately, this would deprive visitors of the context by which to understand the history and ecology of the area. It will still be a rich natural resource, but our understanding of it will be shallower. And just that much poorer.

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