Heading into the summer, most Floridians tend to use our waterways more often. Popular activities such as off shore fishing, scuba diving and paddle boarding increase in the ocean and canals surrounding South Florida as the temperatures rise and the days get longer. The impact of multiple vessels and human activity in the coastal waters can be managed with just a few simple lifestyle changes and boating practices. The following suggestions will go a long way to improving the quality of our local waterways and ensure that we are continuing to preserve and protect our beautiful aquatic resources.
Clean waterways start at the dock. When heading out for a day on the water, remember this simple slogan: “If you have room to take it, you have room to bring it back.” Similar to back country hiking etiquette, “pack it in, pack it out.” Never throw litter off of a vessel and make all attempts to safely retrieve items that accidently get blown overboard. Items used for recreation and fishing such as plastic line, netting or beverage/food pack-aging can be deadly to marine life such as turtles, sea birds or manatees.
Make sure all tackle and items that may unintentionally fall into the water are secured before leaving the dock. Cigarette butts and uneaten food or drinks should be put in the trash on the boat and taken back to the dock; they don’t belong in the ocean!
Boat sewage presents health concerns not only to humans in the waterways but also affects environmental conditions that begin in our surrounding coastal waters. The Clean Boater Program, introduced by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Clean Vessel Act, helps boaters become more aware of the importance of pollution prevention and proper waste management. Vessels that are equipped with onboard toilets should never discharge their waste into the water. Holding tanks should be emptied into approved pump-out stations. Sewage discharged into the waterway can introduce disease causing micro-organisms that affect marine life and possibly work its way into public drinking water or contact with humans who use the waterways for swimming, paddle boarding or kayaking. The program even offers booklets at no charge that provide information regarding clean boating habits and partners with the U.S. Coast Guard to provide compliance checks at zero cost. In addition to the above resource materials, the BoatUS Foundation offers a free clean-boating course that boat owners can take advantage of covering topics related to responsible practices on the waterways. Off the water, simple every day actions can be taken as well to help keep our local waterways as clean as possible. Chemicals that flush out of our home sinks, lawns and gutters may eventually find their way into the water systems leading out into the waterway. Instead of rinsing or hosing down driveways and sidewalks, a better alternative would be to sweep using a broom. Picking up dog waste from lawns prevents bacteria from possibly washing into the waterways after rain or sprinkler systems wet these areas. Recycling programs offer several benefits but in particular to keeping our waterways healthy. These programs keep trash contained and organized, so there is less of a chance for household waste and litter finding its way into the canal system even by mistake.
Community efforts such as beach-day clean-ups, waterway clean-ups and neighborhood recycle centers are great ways to meet other like-minded people and discuss ways we can all work together to lessen our impact on the natural resources surrounding our South Florida homes. Beach clean-ups are reminders of what can wash ashore from far away in the ocean.It’s not unusual to find several pounds of garbage and waste along a few miles of shore. Intracoastal water clean-ups reveal trash that has found its way through the inlet and carried by the current to canals from its ocean origination, trapped under docks and floating debris.
Similar to the effect of a single vessel or one piece of trash multiplying in order to cause a negative impact, one person and one household at a time can multiply into positive changes that can be measured and seen in the quality of the waterways, marine life and vegetation. Whether your enjoyment of the water consists of active adventures or just the simple peace of a beach sunrise, there is a sense of stewardship and pride knowing the condition of the waterway below the surface is healthy and vibrant. By following the above suggestions, we all reap the rewards that surround us in nature.