Lift, Drift, Pole and Troll
Seagrass protection helps sustain coastal resources.
By Stephanie Salinas
On the floors of Texas bays, flowering plants known as seagrass contribute to marine life in silent, sometimes unnoticed, ways. In fact, seagrasses provide numerous services to the coastal ecosystems including: erosion control, food for a wide variety of organisms and improved water quality by absorbing excess nutrients.
The importance of a healthy seagrass bed goes beyond what can be seen from the water surface. With its extensive root system, seagrass helps stabilize the bay bottom and reduce coastal erosion. The plants have been found to help buffer currents, aid in water clarity and improve water quality. The grasses also provide hiding places for recreationally and commercially sought-after fish and shellfish.
Because of the significant role seagrasses play to ensure the sustainability of marine life in Texas, a new law was put in effect on Sept. 1 by the 83rd Legislature that prohibits the uprooting of seagrass with an outboard motor propeller. If the grass is uprooted by the propeller of a boat within the coastal waters in Texas, the boater can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $500 fine. Electric trolling motors are exempt from this regulation. TPWD encourages the use of trolling motors as a tool to minimize damage to seagrass.
When hit by outboard motor propellers, seagrass beds become scarred, requiring long periods of time to re-establish growth. Studies currently being conducted by TPWD in Redfish Bay, near Aransas Pass, suggest that propeller scars, also known as “prop” scars, can recover within one year, but that some scars may never recover. Recovery may depend on several factors, including the species of the grass that was affected, sediment type, water clarity and the direction of the scar in relation to the water currents.
Seagrass can be damaged when boats cut through it. Causing such damage is now against the law.
Running boats through the grass beds can also cause damage to a boat’s motor, hull or propeller. To protect this important habitat and your boat, remember to “lift, drift, pole and troll.”
The “lift, drift, pole and troll” mantra can be used to help boaters maneuver through shallow water and cause minimal damage to the seagrasses. If you find yourself in an area that is too shallow, move into deeper water by lifting the motor and drifting with the wind or using a trolling motor or a push pole.
Seagrass beds rank amongst coral reefs and rain forests as some of the most productive habitats on the planet. The food and shelter that these habitats provide make them vital nursery areas for fish and invertebrates, including game fish like spotted seatrout and red drum.
TPWD Coastal Fisheries Regional Director Ed Hegen recommends that boaters take a boater education course that includes seagrass protection and familiarize themselves with their equipment and the area they’ll be boating in before heading out on the water.
“Those who have learned about the value and importance of seagrasses have demonstrated they still have successful fishing trips while they protect seagrass,” he says.
TPWD will also spread the word to boaters through brochures, billboards, signs posted at boat access points and articles and advertisements in print media. Game wardens will be on the water to educate the public about protecting seagrass, as well as to enforce the regulation. No areas will be closed for seagrass protection, so it’s important for Texas boaters to play their part in protecting this natural resource and boat responsibly.