TropicBird at Calusa Island MarinaTropicBird operates out of Calusa Island Marina in Goodland 35 minutes from downtown Naples and 15 minutes from the resorts of Marco Island. Our dock at is nestled in the mangroves right on Coon Key pass on the very edge of the 10,000 Islands. Our cruising area is entirely within protected waters administered by the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge and Rookery National Estuarine Research Reserve. As soon as we leave our slip civilization is left behind. Ahead lies an uninterrupted maze of pristine islands covered in dark green mangrove trees that stretches into Everglades National Park and all the way to the Florida Keys.

Pencil-like MangrovesBlack mangroves with their pencil-shaped pneumatophores mix with the dominant red mangroves with their tangled prop roots and the less salt-tolerant white mangroves. Their fallen decomposing leaves help drive the food chain and their tangle of roots, along with oyster bars and seagrass meadows, serve as a vital nursery for many fish, some 200 species of which have been documented in the area.

The outer islands bordering the Gulf of Mexico are typically fringed by narrow beaches shaded by sea grapes and tropical hardwoods such as gumbo limbo and Jamaican dogwood. Pioneer species like sea oats, beach morning-glory and sea-rocket struggle to stabilize sand spits. A little higher up keys spider lilies and prickly pear cactus may be found.

Low Tide 10,000 IslandsInland of the mangrove islands where small streams and rivers enter the estuary are brackish marshes carpeted with cattails, bulrushes, cordgrass and black needle rush. There, small ponds and prairies intermix with white and red mangrove saplings. Some of the smaller islands in the northern section provide enough high ground to support slash pine, live oak, cabbage palms and pigeon plum.

The rich estuarine, mangrove, marsh habitats and highly productive waters attract hundreds of species of wildlife. Female loggerhead sea turtles drag themselves onto refuge beaches to nest. Manatees feed within the estuary and find shelter from the cold in the Faka Union Canal. Wintering waterfowl forage in the northern marshes as bald eagles soar over the open water searching for a meal.

Great blue heron at sunsetThe mangroves serve as roosts for birds. Over 189 species make use the Reserve at some time during the year. Prominent groups include wading birds, shorebirds, diving water birds and raptors. The rare mangrove cuckoo also makes its home here as does the mangrove skipper butterfly. Common mammals found in the area include raccoon, river otter, bobcat and bottle-nosed dolphins.

Notable threatened and endangered species include West Indian manatee, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, wood stork, and the Atlantic loggerhead, green, and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.

Waters within the 10,000 Islands are extremely shallow and are sheltered by its numerous islands so that sea conditions are typically calm with winds light in the 10 mph region. This makes for delightful smooth sailing in TropicBird’s easily driven hull. Even if it’s bumpy out on the Gulf we can seek the shelter of the back waters.

With its shallow draft and creature comforts TropicBird serves is an ideal viewing platform and exploration base for the 10,000 Islands and the greatest expanse of mangrove forest in North America.