The 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge on the Florida Gulf Coast is right next to its most famous cousin Everglades National Park, and like the Everglades Park, the Refuge is rich in superb habitats that support incredible wildlife.
This is where you find large congregations of wading and shore birds including
They all feed and nest in the Refuge wetlands and can be seen throughout the shallows surrounding the islands.
The Florida Manatee, also an endangered species, makes himself at home in the 10,000 Islands and nearby waters.
The Refuge itself is nourished by fresh water flows from the Fakahatchee and the Picayune Strands, which make their way to the coast and gradually mix with the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico creating the mangrove estuarine ecosystem of the Ten Thousand Islands.
The 10,000 Islands extend further past the Refuge and into Everglades National Park. Refuge waters are protected and managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, who promote the conservation of the area resources, specifically the endangered species within this unique coastal ecosystem.
The Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge is located in the south side of US 41 to the west of the Fakahatchee Strand.
Best way to see it if of course from the water and the main access points are the communities of Port of the Islands and Goodland.
The Ten Thousand Islands to the south of the Refuge can be reached from the facilities at the Chokoloskee Bay and the Gulf Coast Visitor Center of Everglades National Park in Everglades City.
The northern section of the Refuge consists of fresh water marshes and brackish ecosystems and are accesible by canoe and kayak.
For visitors, one of the easiest ways is by taking one of the Boat Tours offered by the Concessionaire at Everglades National Park at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center.
Here are some more pictures from one of our recent tours to the 10,000 Islands, we didn't see any manatees or dolphins this time, but the shorebirds were definitely there. We saw nesting osprey...
Brown Pelicans fishing their dinner...
Cormorants just watching the tourists go by...
A huge flock of white pelicans wintering in the Florida warmth...
And witness a fantastic sunset... (tip: take the last tour of the day)
Alternatively, you can also drive a bit further on Tamiami Trail until you reach Port of the Islands, this is another little outpost right at the mouth of a channel that opens up to the bay.
During the colder months, this is a great place to see manatees that come and take refuge in the warmer waters of the channel. Boat trips to the Ten Thousand Islands also run from here.
If you are venturing to the bay on your own, be extremely cautious, waters are shallow and navigation is not easy in these waters.
There are thousands of basins and shallow bays along the winding channels which are not always marked. The chance of running aground if you don't know your craft, the area, and the conditions is greater than in normal circumstances, which could cause damage to the ecosystem and habitat of the Ten Thousand Islands.
Where?: The Refuge headquarters are at the Comfort Inn at exit 101 off I-75. Best access to the Ten Thousand Islands is by boat. Easiest for visitors who want to enjoy some wildlife and scenery is through one of the Everglades National Park Boat Tours at the Gulf Coast Visitor Center. See the Florida Everglades Map here.
Private boat ramps are at the marinas in Goodland (County Road 92) and Port of the Islands (US 41).
Entrance Fee: There is no Entrance Fee at the Refuge which is open for public use year round.
Public Use Opportunities: Hiking, Wildlife Observation, Canoeing and Kayaking, Photography, Fishing, Waterfowl Hunting, Camping.
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