Florida, and particularly the Florida Keys, is a haven for water sports enthusiasts.
The Florida Keys attracts approximately 4 million visitors a year, and one out of two of those visitors will snorkel or scuba dive. Florida also leads the nation in the number of days spent fishing by recreational anglers. Nine out of every 100 people in Florida purchase boats. Such heavy use impacts the coastal and estuarine habitats that attract us.
Florida Bay is extremely shallow and requires special caution to avoid inflicting damage, such as scarring sea grass beds with propellers. You can help lessen your impact on sensitive Florida Keys environments by following the guidelines below. In addition, complete a free on-line course to learn the best boating practices for Florida Bay and become a certified Eco-Mariner!
Tips for being responsible on the water
- Stay in designated channels whenever possible.
- Know specific boating rules for protected areas and obey all signage.
- Keep a distance of 300 feet from bird nesting and roosting areas. Flushing birds off their nests can result in nest failure.
- Follow speed limits in manatee zones and keep alert for surfacing marine animals such as sea turtles.
- Install a propeller guard on boat motors.
- Do not feed any wildlife. It will cause them lose their fear of humans, and attracts them to situations where they may become injured or killed, i.e. entangled in fishing line or struck by a boat.
- Keep trash secured in a locked container.
- Pick up trash encountered that could entangle birds and other animals, or injure them if they were to ingest by mistaking as food.
- Check boat engines regularly to make sure they are not leaking gas or oil.
- Reduce or eliminate your use of hazardous chemicals such as marine paints, solvents, cleaners and petroleum products.
- Become an Eco-Mariner to practice boating practices appropriate for shallow Florida Bay waters.
- Dispose of used fishing line properly, ideally in a special monofilament recycling container. Look for the white PVC tubes at public boat ramps, bridges and marinas throughout the Florida Keys.
- Do not leave any hooks or monofilament line behind.
- Avoid casting where birds are close enough to become entangled.
- Practice catch and release fishing using the right equipment, including de-hookers.
- Handle fish gently, keeping them in the water as much as possible.
- Obey the size limits and rules for all species and keep only the amount of fish you and your family will eat.
- Report violations of fishing and boating rules. Within Everglades National Park, contact the Key Largo Ranger Station at 305-852-0304 or the Flamingo Ranger Station at 239-695-3094.
Responsible snorkelers and divers…
- Follow responsible boater guidelines.
- Avoid dropping anchors in sensitive benthic habitat.
- Are careful not to damage coral or any fragile marine life with fins or other equipment. Coral takes years to grow back.
- Check buoyancy and do not carry too much weight.
- Do not handle or harass sea creatures. It puts too much stress on them.
- Report sightings of invasive Indo-Pacific lionfish.
- When taking pictures, do not alter the natural seascape to get the perfect shot.
Tips were adapted from Protecting Paradise: 300 Ways to Protect Florida’s Environment, with permission from authors Margaret Spontak and Peggy Cavanaugh.