Conservancy of Southwest Florida: a nature center making a difference


The electric boat meandered along the Gordon River.  It’s green canvas roof shielded us from the mist that was perfect on a hot Florida day.  Our boat captain Kevin pointed out the the Australian Pine Tree which lined the edge of the water. He explained that these trees are an aggressive growing, invasive species smothering native plants.  We discovered the different types of Mangroves(red, white and black), and the unique way that mangrove seeds are germinated. Kevin also informed us that in addition to alligators, SW Florida is home to crocodiles. I had learned many years ago that you can tell them apart by the shape of the nose.  Apparently, crocodile’s teeth also hang out of their mouth while alligators do not.  The next time you see one of these creatures lurking in the water check the teeth. If it is a crocodile…don’t stick around.   As we floated silently with only the sound of rain drops and birds rustling in the tree tops, two manatees poked their furry faces above the water as if to greet us. 

The electric boat tour is included in admission to the Conservancy of SW Florida. This relaxing 45 min nature tour was a highlight of our visit.

The Conservancy of SW Florida was founded in 1964 by a small group of locals who became concerned about a road that was to be built through Rookery Bay in Naples. They mobilized a grassroots effort to prevent the project and the road was never built.

The Conservancy is located at 1495 Smith Preserve Way in Naples, Fl.

Their mission is “To protect Southwest Florida’s unique
natural environment and quality of life…now and forever.” They are committed to
protecting the water, land and wildlife of SWFL and accomplish this through
four programs.

Science and Research

The Conservancy’s science team conducts research to better understand SWFL’s unique natural environment and how to conserve it.

I was intrigued by the work the Conservancy is doing with Burmese Pythons. Hundreds of thousands of these snakes were brought into Florida through the pet trade since the 1970s. They are now a predator throughout the everglades.  The Conservancy is working to identify their biology and behavior. The team tracks them with a radio-transmitter which leads them to other pythons during the breeding season. As of May 1st, 2019, biologists from the Conservancy have removed over 500 pythons from Collier county.

Conservancy of Southwest Florida: a nature center making a difference

Sam Arner who works at the Conservancy and spends time with the animals on site, including the pythons, had no fear handling these snakes. She shared that Burmese pythons can get to be 20 feet or longer and up to 200 pounds.  She also claims that breeding season for these snakes coincides with Valentine’s day.  I knew there was a reason that I don’t like that day.

 Policy and Advocacy

The Conservancy’s Policy and Advocacy department works with decision makers in Florida to make the right choices to protect our environment. They are working on solutions for Florida’s toxic algae bloom crises, protecting the Florida panther and manatee, just to name a few.

Wildlife Rehabilitation

Nearly 4,000 injured, sick and orphaned animals are admitted to the Von Arx Wildlife Hospital every year. Many of the injuries are a result of contact with humans, including car strikes, window collisions, and fish hook injuries.  Rather than left to die, concerned citizens bring these animals to the Von Arx Hospital. The hospital is open 365 days a year from 8 am to 8 pm. There are 6 full time staff members, including a full-time veterinarian, Dr. PJ Deitschel. One seasonal staff member and 6-7 college graduate interns.  In addition to the full-time staff, hundreds of volunteers ensure that the animals are fed and cared for.

Several rehabilitated animals were unable to be released due to injuries and will spend the rest of their lives at the Hospital. We learned the story of Olive the owl and her damaged wing.

Olive, an adult barred owl, was transferred to the Conservancy in late 2017. The owl sustained multiple injuries to the left wing, leaving her unable to fly. She now provides guests an up-close opportunity to learn more about the species.

Environmental Education

The Conservancy provides environmental education to guests ranging from pre-k through adulthood.  The 21-acre nature center helps promote a love and appreciation for nature.

The Dalton Discovery Center is an immersive journey through the ecosystems of SWFL.  Explore hands-on the animals and plants that are part of the everglades, uplands, mangroves, beach and ocean.  Daily programs such as Scales and Tails bring you face-to face with reptiles and all things slithery. 

Conservancy of Southwest Florida: a nature center making a difference

The Little Explorer Play zone is an opportunity for children 18 months to 5 years old to participate in multisensory, interactive play activities.

The center also provides camps and field trips for children from kindergarten through 9th grade.


The Conservancy relies on membership to support their work and it comes with many perks. Membership starts at $65 and includes free admission, kayak rentals, discounted eco cruises, admission to Evenings at the Conservatory, an environmental lecture series (which includes wine) and most importantly the knowledge that you are supporting the work to protect land, water and wildlife for future generations.

The Conservancy of SW FL is open 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

is $14.95 for adults and $9.95 for kids. Age 12 and under are free

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