by Brittany Hall-Scharf
“Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints.” – Chief Seattle
Did you know that volunteers collected 23,396 pieces of trash from the coastal communities, dredge islands, and marine waters along Hernando County during the 2018 and 2019 Coastal Cleanups hosted by UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County? Yes – 23,396 pieces of trash in just two days. The number one item collected was cigarette butts followed by food wrappers, beverage cans, plastic bottles, and glass bottles. Actual fishing gear ranked 21 on the list. Be mindful of your trash and dispose of it properly. Secure it to your vessel while out on the water and don’t leave it behind after your picnic. Everyone, including the wildlife, will thank you.
Whether it be kayaking alongside a gentle manatee or watching a great blue heron catch its lunch, please give wildlife space. Don’t feed or try to pet a wild animal. Not only can this be dangerous for you and the animal, but it may be illegal.
For example, did you know that manatees are protected by state and federal laws? This means that you cannot feed, touch, pursue, or chase manatees while you are swimming, snorkeling, diving, paddling, or operating a boat. Violators of these rules can face possible state and federal fines and imprisonment.
For more information, visit: https://myfwc.com/education/wildlife/manatee/viewing-guidelines/
Seagrasses are completely submerged grass-like plants in coastal areas. They are important because they help maintain water clarity by trapping sediments in the water column and provide food and shelter for many species of marine life. Fortunately, Florida’s Adventure Coast is blessed with an estimated 250,000 acres of seagrass!
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. Sadly, studies estimate that over 30,000 acres of seagrass throughout Florida have been damaged or “scarred” by boat propellers.
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 and 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 easiest form of seagrass protection. Be Seagrass Safe next time you are out boating – for the water, for the ecosystem, and for the economy.
For more information, visit: http://beseagrasssafe.com/
Use oil absorbent pads to cleanup any oil leaks or spills. These absorbent pads can be purchased at most boating stores and easily kept on board to prevent and contain spills. Never use household detergents, as they may harm sea life and you can incur large fines.
To learn more, visit: https://gulfseagrant.org/oilspilloutreach/
Many factors contribute to erosion. Unfortunately, not all are natural. Repetitive foot traffic can crush and eventually kill the native vegetation that keeps shorelines from eroding away. In turn, sediments that were once held in place by the root structure of the vegetation wash downstream and fill in channels and rivers. The fish and wildlife that utilized the degraded habitat for food and shelter now must relocate elsewhere to survive. Additionally, the shoreline is no longer equipped to help dissipate wave energy or remove pollutants from the ecosystem. Thus, it is importance using designated entry and exit points for boats and not veering off the marked trail or route.
Author: Brittany Hall-Scharf
Brittany Hall-Scharf is Hernando County’s Florida Sea Grant Agent with the UF/IFAS Extension Office. Within her role, Hall-Scharf works on many coastal and marine programs to address issues related to fisheries, coastal habitats, water quality and sustainable economic resource activities. Hall-Scharf was a former fisheries biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and an adjunct professor for the University of Tampa. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biological Science from Florida State University, a Marine Science Certificate from Florida State University and a Master of Science in Biological Oceanography from the University of South Florida.