Watch Your Speed Please

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(By Robert Howell) I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but lately there seems to be a growing issue of speeding behind Fort Myers Beach in Matanzas pass. For those of you unaware this is a NO WAKE zone. No wake defined by the coast guard means no white water at the bow of your vessel which in return will create no wake (the wave your boat creates as it moves through the water).

There are many reasons for this area to have this speed zone. It’s mainly to protect our estuary ecosystem behind the island and its inhabitants. And to protect the anchored and moored boats as well as the various boats tucked away in marinas.

Many Locals know and understand the laws, however, our visitors to the area do not, and when they rent pontoon boats or jet skis, they are not properly told the laws or even about staying within the channels. Not to mention how many of our tour guides are not complying with NOAA laws and regulations for protecting marine mammals and Sea Grass ecosystems.

I feel it’s on these tour companies to not only educate their guides on the laws in the area but to also give instructions to their renters. Why is this important? Our sea grass beds in Matanzas bay have receded by over 4 feet in the last 3 years due to negligence on the part of our local authorities and tour companies allowing boats to tear up the grass. It takes decades for sea grasses to regrow from damage that can be done in seconds by a boat driving where it should not go.

The sea grass is important because it not only cleans the water but it’s home and shelter to hundreds of species including fish, sea turtles, sharks, dolphins, sea horses, and countless more. Much of this destruction can be avoided with simple education.

No one is coming here to destroy anything. These actions are not being done intentionally. But the ignorance and carelessness being shown by many of our local companies is appalling. We have a tourism industry because of our nature, wildlife and beaches. Guests come here to see our unique ecosystems. However if this keeps up, and we don’t start paying more attention to how it’s being treated, we will not have what so many come here to enjoy.

“DON’T DESTORY WHAT YOU CAME TO ENJOY”

We call them manatee zones for a reason. manatee are a slow moving air breathing animal that will need air every 2-20 minutes depending on their activity. Because of their need for air they often breach the surface of the water. If boaters are not careful they can easily hit these manatee and kill or permanently deform the animal.

The FWC even keeps records of the manatee and can tell individuals apart by their propeller scars. These manatee eat over 10% of their body weight a day in seagrass and various forms of vegetation. If we destroy the grass they will leave. If we don’t slow down the boats, they will leave.

Dolphins are also being hurt by the speeds. Do dolphins enjoy jumping in the wake of a boat? Yes clearly, this can be seen by anyone who has witnessed this behavior. However this is a learned behavior usually being done by older dolphins that move into a boat already going the speed needed for wake or bow riding done by the dolphins.

When a tour company deliberately speeds over a pod of dolphins possibly feeding, giving birth or mating and then proceeds to speed up right over the group this can create a suction that younger inexperienced dolphins many not be able to escape. This can kill or injure them severely. It can also lead to mothers and calves being separated when one gets carried away in the wake.  According not NOAA it’s illegal to deliberately entice dolphins to do this behavior exactly for these reasons. We need to start holding boaters accountable for what they do!

How can we solve these issues? Education is the first step. We must ensure tour company renters are being told the laws and the reason for channels and how to stay in them. We need them to understand where and why there are speed zones and how to tell if you’re going the proper speed or not.

WEATHER IS NOT AN EXCUESE.
Many boaters speed to avoid foul weather. That’s no reason to endanger wildlife or other boaters. You should always plan your days accordingly. It’s Florida, plan for bad weather in the summer.

Another big issue that need to be addressed is we need more law enforcement on our waters. There are, as far as I can tell, only 3 officers that patrol our waters from the sheriff’s department. That’s not nearly enough to patrol over 20 miles of waterway.

Call the sheriff, record these boaters if you can get the number from the bow of their boat. We need to start holding these people accountable for their actions. The law states “YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR WAKE.” Sad thing is the boat is usually long gone after the damage is done. Have  your cameras and phones ready and lets start holding these negligent boaters accountable. Notice I say boaters because there are a lot of boaters. Not many captains. Captains know the laws of the water and abide by them.

Ranger Rob Howell can be reached on Instagram at RangerRobFMB, Facebook: Ranger Rob FMB or by e-mail at RangerRob@pinkshell.com