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Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Ten Thousand Islands NWR is located in Collier County on the southwest coast of Florida. Established in 1996, this 35,000 acres refuge protects important mangrove habitats and a rich diversity of native wildlife, including several endangered species.

The refuge is part of the largest expanses of mangrove forest in North America. Approximately two thirds of the refuge is mangrove forest, which dominates most tidal fringes and the numerous islands (or keys). The northern third of the refuge consists of brackish marsh and interspersed ponds, and small coastal hammocks of oak, cabbage palms, and tropical hardwoods such as gumbo limbo.

Roughly 200 species of fish have been documented in the area and much of the sea grass beds and mangrove bottoms serve as vital nursery areas for marine fish. Over 189 species of birds use the refuge at some time during the year. Prominent bird groups include wading birds, shorebirds, diving water birds, and raptors. Common mammals found in the area include raccoon, river otter, 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 turles

Getting There . . .
Ten Thousand Islands NWR is located between Marco Island and Everglades City, Florida. The refuge is best accessed by boat. The two prominent boating access points are found in Goodland and Port-of-the-Islands. Take U.S. 41 south out of Naples and drive 12 miles to Hwy 92, turn right and drive 5 miles to Goodland, or continue on U.S. 41 for 5 miles to Port-of-the-Islands. The headquarters for the refuge is located at 3860 Tollgate Blvd,. Naples, FL, within the Comfort Inn at exit 101 on I-75.

Wildlife and Habitat

A maze of mangrove islands and waterways defines the Ten Thousands Islands National Wildlife Refuge. These islands, covered in dark green mangrove trees, serve as roosts for birds and nurseries for fish. Narrow beaches, shaded by sea grapes, gumbo limbo, and Jamaican dogwood, lie along the Gulf of Mexico. On all of the islands, black mangroves with their pencil-shaped pneumatophores mix with red mangroves with their tangled prop roots and the less salt-tolerant white mangroves. North of the mangrove forests is the fresh and brackish water marshes that are carpeted with cattails, bulrushes, cordgrass, and black needle rush. Small ponds and prairies intermix with white and red mangrove saplings. Small islands in the northern part of the refuge provide enough high ground for slash pine, live oak cabbage palms and pigeon plum.

The rich estuarine, mangrove and marsh habitats attract hundreds of species of wildlife. During the summer, as many as 10,000 wading birds roost on a small island in Pumpkin Bay. 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. The rare mangrove cuckoo and black-whiskered vireo make their home on the refuge along with the diamondback terrapin. The abundance and diversity of wildlife on Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge is directly related to health and diversity of the habitats on the refuge.

History

The abundance of seafood in the Ten Thousand Islands area has attracted humans for thousands of years. Prehistoric indigenous human populations utilized the area extensively, constructing large shell midden complexes on several islands. Early Spanish explorers traded with the native inhabitants, but European diseases decimated the coastal Indian populations. During the late 1880's, white settlers began occupying several of the larger islands. Commercial fishing was the primary source of income for these families. By the 1940's, only a few hermits remained on islands within the Ten Thousand Islands area. Improved amenities on the mainland encouraged pioneer families to move to Everglades City, Marco Island or Naples. Consequently, today the refuge is uninhabited and nearly as pristine as it was when the early settlers arrived.

The Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1996 under the provisions of the Arizona-Florida Land Exchange Act of 1988. The Department of the Interior conveyed 68 acres of Indian School property in Phoenix, Arizona to Collier family interests in exchange for 108,000 acres in Collier County, Florida. In addition, the Department received $34.9 million to establish Indian education trust funds. Approximately 35,000 acres were conveyed to the Service to establish the refuge. The remaining acreage was added largely to Big Cypress National Preserve and Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge.

Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge
3860 Tollgate Blvd.
Naple, FL 34114
E-mail: floridapanther@fws.gov
Phone Number: 239-353-8442
Visit the Refuge's Web Site: http://southeast.fws.gov/TenThousandIsland/

Information provided by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service