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Floridians Learn Boating ... At Their Desk!

July 10, 2009

Islamorada, FL – It’s world-renowned for fishing and boating, but Florida Bay in south Florida can be treacherous for boaters who do not know how to navigate the shallow waters. Inexperienced or careless boaters can leave behind a trail of scarred sea grasses, filament lines, and plastic bags that can be deadly to wildlife and their habitat.

To combat the problem, Rob Clift, senior marine outreach coordinator for the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), has developed a one-and-a-half-hour, free online education program, called Eco-Mariner.

"Education is the cornerstone to going out in Florida Bay, where most areas have a depth of three feet or less. Anyone who goes out there without the knowledge is going to damage the resource and their boat."

He says even seasoned boaters can learn from the Eco-Mariner course, and for first timers, it's an eye-opener.

"Their 'ah ha' moment is, 'oh my gosh, I had no idea how shallow it was out there.' They just didn’t grasp there are acres of area that are less-than six inches of water, but if you look out there it looks like open ocean."

Boats running aground can leave sea grass damage that takes a decade to repair, forcing wading birds and fish to seek other feeding grounds, says Clift. The total economic impact of fishing in Florida is valued at roughly $10 billion a year, much of it coming from fisheries in Florida Bay.

"Every economy down here, from the dive boat industry, to the fishing industry, restaurants and hotels, all rely on a healthy Florida Bay. A lot is at risk if we don’t protect it."

Eco-Mariner teaches boaters to slow down, take the long way around instead of cutting across the flats, and to always look out for marine animals. NPCA believes the approach is crucial to protecting the wading bird and fish populations that draw visitors to Florida Bay and drive the local economy.

For more information or to take the course, visit www.ecomariner.org.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL