Suppose you have ventured to coastal boat ramps in Hernando and Citrus counties this summer. In that case, you may have been asked by UF/IFAS Extension employees to be seagrass safe. But why?
Seagrasses are completely submerged grass-like plants in coastal areas. They help maintain water clarity by trapping sediments in the water column and provide food and shelter for many species of marine life. In fact, the seagrasses along Florida’s Adventure Coast are so essential that a new aquatic preserve is to protect them is underway.
Seven species of seagrasses found off Florida’s coast can colonize to form continuous beds, known as seagrass meadows. Like many land plants, seagrasses require light to make their food through a process called photosynthesis. The amount of light that can penetrate the water and reach the seagrasses’ leaves limits these plants to shallow, coastal areas highly impacted by our actions.
Because of their underground root system, damage to seagrass meadows can be detrimental. Recovery can take months or even years. If the damage is too extensive or repeated, the seagrass meadows may not recover at all. Unfortunately, studies estimate that over 30,000 acres of seagrass throughout Florida have been damaged or “scarred” by boat propellers.
So how can you protect seagrass meadows?
Avoid. When under power, utilize navigational channels and deeper water. Be aware of shallow area markers and warning signs, and keep a lookout while on the water. Become familiar with the local nautical tide charts to avoid the shallow, seagrass areas.
Trim. When operating in seagrass meadows, trim up the boat motor and idle to deeper waters.
Push. If you do run aground, stop the engine and push the boat to deeper water.
While these best practices may not always be an option for every situation, damage prevention is the most straightforward form of seagrass protection. Be Seagrass Safe next time you are out boating -for the water, the ecosystem, and the economy.
UF/IFAS is an equal opportunity institution.