FWC News Release

October 2, 2009
Contact: Capt. Mark Warren, 850-488-6251

Under new legislation aimed at protecting sea grass in Florida's aquatic preserves, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will educate boaters on the importance of the plants. After a suitable education period, officers will begin citing boaters who intentionally destroy sea grass in a careless manner that scars sea grass beds within an aquatic preserve. This is a noncriminal infraction.

Sea grass scarring results because of operating a motorized vessel in a way that damages or destroys plants' roots, shoots or stems. The scarring is commonly referred to as prop scars or propeller scars.

"I can't emphasize enough how important sea grass is to marine life," said Capt. Mark Warren of the FWC. "Approximately 80 percent of Florida's fisheries species spend at least part of their life cycles in sea grass. If you like to fish, or like seafood, you should like and preserve sea grass."

Sea grass is a submerged, grass-like plant that inhabits the shallow coastal waters of Florida. Sea grass meadows are an important but often overlooked habitat for many of Florida's recreationally and commercially important marine life, such as fish, crabs and clams. Many species of juvenile fish use sea grass as cover from larger predators. A single acre of the aquatic plant community can support as many as 40,000 fish and 50 million invertebrates.

Warren recommends that boaters be watchful for the deep green sea grass beds as they ply the waters of the state. If a boater does run aground on a sea grass bed or sees the propeller is stirring up plant and sand debris, Warren says the boater can minimize the damage.

"The boater should stop his boat. If the water depth is sufficient to allow the engine to continue pumping cooling water without ingesting dirt or debris, he can allow the engine to cool for a minute or two. Then, the boater should tilt his engine, and push, paddle or pole his boat to deeper water, where it can be safely operated. In no case should a boater try to power his boat out of a sea grass bed when grounded. This can cause extensive damage to these sensitive habitats."

Sea grass also provides critical habitat for animals such as wading birds, manatees and sea turtles. Further, it improves water quality. Sea grass filters nutrients from land-based industrial discharge and stormwater runoff before these nutrients are washed out to sea and to other sensitive habitats, such as coral reefs. Ocean-bottom areas that are devoid of sea grass are vulnerable to intense wave action from currents and storms. With no sea grass to stabilize the ocean bottom, Florida's beaches, businesses and homes can suffer greater damage from storms.

In addition to being watchful for sea grass, boaters should be cognizant of the water depth. Navigational charts can help boaters know water depths. Boaters should remain in marked channels as much as they can and avoid sea grass beds when they leave channels. Improper anchoring can also cause damage. It is best to anchor where the ocean bottom is bare and sandy.

Florida has 41 aquatic preserves, encompassing almost 2 million acres. All but four of these submerged lands are along Florida's 8,400 miles of coastline in the shallow waters of marshes and estuaries.

For a complete list of Florida's aquatic preserves, please go to www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/programs/aquatic.htm. The new legislation excludes Lake Jackson, Oklawaha River, Wekiva River and Rainbow Springs aquatic preserves.