Each year, poorly conducted or irresponsible boat operation and accidents damage shore and reef environments in popular marine coastal destinations around the world. If a boat collides with a coral reef, it can crush and kill large areas of corals and other reef-dwelling organisms. A fuel spill resulting from a collision can affect coastal organisms from birds to reptiles (such as the Galápagos marine iguanas) and innumerable species of marine invertebrates and fish. Although large commercial ships are known to have caused significant damage when running aground, smaller private or commercial boats can also severely impact a sea-bottom habitat.
While vessel groundings can have the most immediate and destructive impact on coral reefs, an increase in sedimentation from propeller wash and wave creation can smother reef-dwelling organisms and inhibit the photosynthetic process of symbiotic algae that live within coral tissues. In addition, the use of older outboard engines and jet skis (where allowed) that have inefficient two-stroke engines can generate significant levels of air and noise pollution and interfere with onshore biological processes, such as reproduction, nesting and feeding. These impacts can cause costly and often irreversible damage to ecologically and economically valuable marine communities.
Speeding by onboard tenders near sea turtle mating areas may also disturb the turtles’ reproductive processes. However, many of these problems can be avoided with careful planning and environmentally conscious boating, which will lead to healthier sea-bottom habitats and a stronger local economy based on the many uses of natural marine resources. From an operational perspective, poor boating practices and accidents may generate increased maintenance and repair costs and higher insurance premiums, and may lead to injuries and loss of human life.
Why Should I Care?
Fewer Living Species and Less Overall Diversity: Degraded marine habitats harbor fewer marine mammals, fish and other species that are key components of a healthy nearshore marine ecosystem and a viable marine recreation industry.
Fewer New Corals: When a reef is altered by boat groundings or increased sedimentation, the substrate on which new corals attach is disturbed and often destroyed, leading to slower reef recovery.
Cloudy Water: Boat groundings, propellers and waves often cause an increase in sand and sediment in the water, reducing the sunlight available for marine organisms to produce food through photosynthesis and negatively affecting the quality of the visitor experience.
Disturbed Biological Processes: Even minor oil spills, fumes, noise and wreck debris can interfere with the feeding, reproductive, nesting and resting processes necessary for coastal marine fauna to thrive. Birds, reptiles, marine mammals, fish and marine invertebrates are affected by irresponsible boating practices.
Higher Operational Costs: Extra maintenance and repair costs associated with accidents can increase operational expenses.
What Can I Do?
Follow Proper Navigation And Mooring Principles By:
- Staying within designated anchoring sites and staying beyond the furthest visible reef patch in unknown or unmarked coral reef areas.
- Obeying all speed signs (where available) and using common sense to avoid hurting or harassing marine mammals and other large marine animals.
- Identifying dark water areas as possible important shallow ecosystems, such as shallow reefs.
- Knowing how to properly read and interpret a navigational chart.
- Using mooring buoys where available. If anchoring, always drop anchors in designated anchoring sites or rubble areas, well away from living reefs and allowing sufficient scope to avoid dragging along the bottom.
Keep Boats In Prime Condition For Operations And Emergencies By:
- Having boat engines regularly serviced by a certified mechanic and, when possible, replacing older two-stroke engines with more fuel-efficient, cleaner burning four-stroke outboards.
- Carrying a supply of basic tools for engine repairs out at sea.
- Always carrying both a primary and secondary anchor line, so vessels can be securely moored in emergency situations.
- Keeping absorbent sponges on board to deal with hazardous chemical spills.
- Using nontoxic oils wherever possible. Wait until you get to a marina or to a village to dispose of any waste oil.
- Refueling. Filling up at sea could result in fuel spills into the water.
- Developing and implementing a preventive maintenance plan and sticking to it, to reduce unexpected engine failures, avoid unsatisfied costumers and complaints, and save money in the long run. Proper maintenance also reduces CO2 emissions from poorly tuned engines.
Educate Customers And Tourists Who Rent Kayaks And Other Boats By:
- Instructing renters in basic navigation, boat handling and safety principles.
- Explaining the sensitive nature of the ecosystem and the importance of avoiding shallow areas with motorized vessels.
- Providing easy-to-use waterproof navigation and location charts.