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 and throughout Florida.

Damage is especially intense in south Florida, Everglades National Park and around the Florida Keys, which are some of the most fragile marine ecosystems in the world.

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 Monroe, Lee, Collier, Monroe, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, are growing rapidly.

Many of these residents will engage in boating activities, like visiting sandbars. 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. Popular sandbars in the Florida Keys are especially prone to damage due to their shallow water and high levels of boat traffic.

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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 life for 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.

Seagrass Damage

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 root structures.

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 “Power off”, using their engine and propeller to become unstranded.

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

A single boat can cause years, or even decades, worth of seagrass damage. This damage causes a chain reaction of damage throughout the rest of the environment.

For example, seagrass damage is directly linked to harmful algae blooms and Florida’s red tide outbreaks.

Seagrass in Florida

There are 7 species of seagrass found in Florida. Each species has a different rate of growth and recovery time after damage.

The recovery time after damage on the species, local characteristics, sedimentation, the degree of damage, water quality and other factors.

Some species, including turtle grass, can take up to 6 years to fully recover after damage.

Responsible Boating in Florida’s Waterways

To reduce their impact on Florida’s waterways, boaters should:

  • Educate themselves on proper boating practices, and know how to avoid prop dredging and groundings.
  • Ask for local knowledge, especially about how to safely navigate shallow, sensitive waters.
  • Have appropriate chartplotter equipment know how to use it.
  • Know how to remain safely inside marked channels, read water depths and navigational beacons.
  • Know their vessels’ draft and avoid water that is too shallow.
  • 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.
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