Boating Tips for the Environment

 By Dr. John Lopez

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n general, I find folks who own boats are responsible. Owning and running a boat requires some serious responsibility. Otherwise, being careless will quickly lead to major problems that can end your life or your boating hobby. Safety is always paramount. Boaters are often savvy to safety issues, such as life jackets, rules of the road, drinking alcohol, etc, but here are some other environmental safety suggestions for local boaters.

Crab traps and the accompanying  oats are common all over the Gulf Coast. Most boaters will try to avoid striking the  oat line, but sometimes we get careless. Of course, this can be a hassle to unwind the rope around the prop, but it is also an environmental issue. If the cord is cut, the float is lost and the crab fisher can no longer find his trap. The trap becomes a ‘ghost trap’. It will continue to catch crabs and fish which will likely die in the trap. Simple solution: always be on the watch for crab float lines and avoid them.

An extremely important habitat is submerged grass beds in the marsh, lagoons, lakes and bays around Panama City and the Forgotten Coast.  is is an important nursery for bait fish, crabs, and even unusual species such as pipe fish that are a distant relative of sea horses. A rotating propeller passing through grass beds is like a weed eater chopping down the grass.

I’ve seen many boat trails through grass beds from aerial trips over St. Joe Bay for example. Of course, we may want to fish the grass beds, but even this can be done in a friendlier way. A good measure is to use a trolling motor, trim your engine high and go slow, drift or pole through the grass beds, or use a kayak, etc. Also consider the angle of approach. If the grass beds are along the shore enter from a high angle and not obliquely. This will reduce your track through the grass beds. The grass beds can decline from prop damage, but they do recover when conditions are good. It’s a shame that, when they do recover, they may get needlessly mowed down again. So, please be particularly careful to minimize the impact to the bottom.

I believe many boaters already practice good sense and don’t throw trash overboard. It takes a bit more diligence to avoid having items accidentally  y out of the boat. Empty water bottles are very light and can easily  y out. It’s a simple task to have a trash container bag handy in the boat. This keeps your boat cleaner, safer, and avoids the flying litter problem. But, I also ask you to go a step further. If you see some litter on the water, please take a second and put your boating and netting skills to work and scoop up a bit of trash. Obviously, this cleans the environment and enhances the beauty of the environment. It also might just save you or a fellow boater an engine. Plastic trash bags can wrap around the lower unit and block the fresh water intake. An over-heated engine can result and damage the engine. State agents or scientists will always have a smaller presence on the water than the general public. So always be alert to anything unusual, such as a large number of dead  fish, a rare fish or shrimp, or anything that looks hazardous to the environment or people. And, of course, report these things to authorities. Spills should be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard. Any unusual species situation, such as a dead porpoise or sea turtle, should be reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). FWC depends on the public to keep an eye on the environment.

My last recommendation for boating is more general.  is is something someone recommended to me many years ago. While boating, be curious. You never know where this might lead you, but over the years it’s been very worthwhile for me. I once spotted something on the horizon that I assumed was some litter. Instead I found a sparkling white 100 quart ice chest, which I quickly retrieved. Curiosity may lead you to the good, bad or mundane, but often it’s worth the trip.

Finally, all of these things can help now, but when you do these kind of actions in front of young kids, you are helping tomorrow and beyond. Setting a good example and teaching a basic lesson about the environment is possibly the most important role you can have toward a sustainable habitat.