FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Deputy Secretary of the Interior Steve Griles signed an agreement Friday with the Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.) to work together to protect coral reefs, seagrass beds and other important marine habitats, BoatU.S. reported in a recent statement.
BoatU.S. Vice President Michael G. Sciulla joined Griles in signing the agreement following the Boating Writers International Annual Meeting at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
"The protection and conservation of our coral reefs and seagrass beds is vitally important both to the marine environment and the economy of coastal states like Florida," Griles said in signing the memorandum of understanding. "This agreement will help make sure the boating public is aware of how important these areas are, and how to recreate responsibly without damaging these important resources."
Education a big part of agreement
The agreement includes a public education effort aimed at recreational boaters that will stress the ecological importance of coral reefs and seabed grass and how to avoid damaging them during recreational activities.
"Boaters can do a lot to protect the waterways they enjoy," Sciulla said. "The purpose of this partnership is to strengthen the stewardship of the underwater ecosystem and keep waterways accessible to recreational boating."
Both coral reefs and seagrass beds provide important fish habitat, and coral reefs protect shorelines from storms. Economic studies place the value of coral reefs to Florida at $8 billion while the state's 2.5 million acres of seagrass bed provide a home to redfish, snook, stone crabs, and other prized species, according to BoatU.S.
These fragile areas have been damaged by pollution, overuse and by boaters who inadvertently run aground on reefs or through seagrass beds where the props tear out the grasses, causing scarring which can lead to further damage if not repaired quickly.
"Boaters are a conservation-minded group," Griles said. "If we can get the message out to them, we can significantly reduce the damage to our reefs and seagrass beds so everyone can continue to enjoy them."
"The educational efforts will include information on how boaters can do their part to avoid groundings and to report them as soon as they happen so restoration efforts can begin," Sciulla said.
This is the first time the Department of the Interior has entered into an agreement of this scope with a national boating advocacy group for the conservation of coral reefs and seagrass beds. Prior conservation efforts for these resources have been either entirely by the government or involved nongovernmental entities only on a limited basis at individual sites, BoatU.S. reported.
"Partnerships with those who benefit from healthy resources have provided tremendous benefits for wildlife species, and we are now going to apply that principle to our marine resources," Griles said.
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