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Help Protect Seagrasses

boat in water

Each species of seagrass recovers from damage at a different rate, but in general, recovery can take anywhere between a few months to several years. Injuries to leaves and stems are less detrimental than damage to the underground root system, from which seagrasses may not be able to recover.

As Florida's population grows, the number of boats on the water also increases. The negative effects of careless boating on seagrasses are becoming more pronounced, especially in nearshore communities and popular boat access areas. When a boat's propeller cuts through seagrasses, it fragments the bed and can restrict the movement of the species found in that habitat. This loss is detrimental to not only the animals that depend on seagrasses, but to the economy of the area and the state of Florida. The institute's 1995 publication, Scarring of Florida's Seagrasses: Assessment and Management Options, analyzes damage resulting from propeller scars in Florida's seagrass beds. This document includes many GIS-based maps documenting areas where scarring is present, information about the recovery of seagrasses after prop scar damage, and management options that address the problem.

Another important factor to consider when boating is what can happen to personal property when grounding in a shallow bottom area or seagrass bed: vessel engines, hulls, and propellers can be damaged. In addition to towing fees, groundings that cause damage to seagrasses can result in both federal and state fines. The economic and environmental importance of seagrasses has led to regulations that can hold boaters that scar seagrass beds responsible for the costs of assessing damage, restoring habitat, and long-term monitoring of the restored area.

The easiest way to protect seagrasses is by preventing damage in the first place. The tips that follow on how to protect seagrasses are taken directly from the institute's publication, Florida's Seagrass Meadows.

  • Be Aware: If you live near the coast or along a river, be careful when applying fertilizers and pesticides to your lawn. Use only the amount of fertilizer required and consider using a slow-release fertilizer. Gutters and storm drains transport excess lawn chemicals to the water.
  • Read the Waters: Wear polarized sunglasses when boating to reduce the surface glare to help you see shallow areas and seagrass beds. Polarized sunglasses can also help you see and avoid manatees and underwater hazards.
  • Know Your Boating Signs and Markers: Operate your boat in marked channels to prevent running aground and damaging your boat and seagrass beds. Know the correct side to stay on when approaching channel markers. Learn the shapes and markings of signs warning boaters of dangerous shallows and areas where boats are prohibited by law.
  • Know Your Depth and Draft: When in doubt about the depth, slow down and idle. If you are leaving a muddy trail behind your boat, you are probably cutting seagrass. Tilt or stop your engine if necessary. If you run aground, pole or walk your boat to deeper water. Never try to motor your way out. This will cause extensive damage to seagrass and may harm your motor. Know the times for your low and high tides.
  • Be On the Lookout: Docks, boathouses, and even boats can block sunlight from reaching the seagrass below. When building or repairing a dock, consider building the dock five feet above the water and using grating rather than planks. Extend the dock to deeper water so your boat does not shade seagrass.
  • Study Your Charts: Use navigational charts, fishing maps, or local boating guides to become familiar with waterways. These nautical charts alert you to shallow areas so you don't run aground and damage seagrass. Know before you go.