Boating Impact on Florida Waterways

Boaters can have serious, negative impacts on Florida’s waterways!

As the population of south Florida and the Florida Keys grows, boater’s impact on the marine environment will become an increasingly serious problem to manage.

Many boaters run aground every year and damage the fragile seagrass in Florida Bay. Some boaters may even need assistance from law enforcement and rescue personnel after they run aground, possibly becoming stuck or damaging their boats.

The populations of coastal counties in South Florida are growing at an unsustainable rate. This puts additional pressure on marine ecosystems and strains our delicate marine environments. Many counties in south Florida, including Lee, Collier, Monroe, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, are growing rapidly.

Many of these residents will engage in boating activities; few will take time to learn the local boating knowledge necessary to avoid running aground or otherwise damaging the fragile waterways.

Especially in the Florida Keys, shallow water environments are vulnerable to damage from propellers, boat hulls and damaging wakes, among other impacts.

Sand flats, coral reefs and seagrass beds are all sensitive ecosystems, and are immensely valuable to the marine environment of Florida Bay, the Florida Keys and surrounding environments.

Seagrass habitats are essential to the health and vitality of south Florida’s waterways. Seagrasses, in addition to mangroves, are the cradle of many fishery resources. Many species rely on these protected areas because they are where juvenile fish and invertebrates live during their early life stages. Spiny lobster, pink shrimp, stone crab and many other species rely on seagrasses for survival.

Seagrasses are especially important for Florida manatees because it is their primary food source.

Seagrass is essential for other reasons, too. Seagrass helps to improve water clarity, dampen wave energy and reduce erosion, and helps stabilize seafloors thanks to their root structure. Seagrasses also help contain sediment and provide food and shelter for other animal species.

Seagrasses can be damaged in a variety of ways. One of the most common types of damage occurs when propellers gouge the seafloor and damage root systems, damaging the sensitive plants. A single boater can cause immense damage while trying to plow through shallow areas. Even more damage is often caused after a boater runs hard aground and tries to become unstranded.

Seagrass beds take a very long time to grow and to recover from damage.

There are 7 species of seagrass found in the Florida Keys; each have different rates of growth and recovery time. The recovery time is further dependent on local characteristics, sedimentation, the degree of damage, water quality and other characteristics. Some species, including turtle grass, can take 3 to 6 years to fully recover.

Boaters should educate themselves on proper boating practices, and know how to avoid prop dredging and groundings. Boaters should familiarize themselves with local knowledge and how to navigate amid shallow, sensitive waters.

Boaters should also be prepared to navigate; they should have appropriate navigation charts and know how to use them. Boaters should also know how to navigate through marked channels, read depths and navigational beacons.

Boaters should know their vessels’ draft and should not operate in water that is too shallow. Boaters should also be prepared with proper gear to assist their own visual watch keeping, including polarized sunglasses which can help cut through the glare on the water’s’ surface.