Statewide sea grass protection law marks anniversary in Texas

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TPWD/Contributed Photo Motorboat “prop scars” occur when a boat propeller digs into the bay bottom where sea grass occurs

September marks the one-year anniversary of a law passed by the Texas Legislature prohibiting the uprooting of sea grass with the propeller of a boat within coastal waters. Sea grasses are important as they stabilize sediments, decrease erosion, improve water quality and clarity, increase dissolved oxygen and provide habitat for recreationally and commercially important species, including redfish and speckled trout.

Motorboat “prop scars” occur when a boat propeller digs into the bay bottom where sea grass occurs. This typically occurs when a boat accelerates to get on plane in water that is too shallow, although it can occur at any operating speed when the water is shallow enough for the propeller to come in contact with the sediment and roots of the sea grass plants. These prop scars cause erosion and loss of seagrass habitat, which can take a long time to recover and may even worsen over time.

A similar regulation which prevents the uprooting of seagrass has been in place since 2006 in the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area near Rockport. Since the Redfish Bay regulation passed, TPWD has observed a 45 percent decrease in the number of propeller scars in the RBSSA. TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division biologists who have led seagrass monitoring and public education are hopeful the RBSSA success will be mirrored coastwide as the new regulation protects sea grass in all coastal Texas waters.

The extensive root systems found in sea grass beds stabilize sediments and reduce erosion, improve water quality and clarity, and provide habitat for invertebrates such as shrimp and crabs. Sea grasses are also photosynthetic (they convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugars), which makes them a main primary producer and increases dissolved oxygen in the water. Finally, sea grass beds provide a structurally diverse habitat for important species. These juvenile fish can find refuge from predators in sea grass beds, as well as a supply of prey living within the grasses.

For years the department and like-minded partners have worked to educate boaters and provide information about how to protect seagrass while still enjoying the outdoors. This effort started at RBSSA and is now expanding along the coast. Coastal fisheries staff have led a long list of outreach efforts involving billboards, booths at festivals, educational videos and more. Game wardens make thousands of boater contacts per year, sometimes issuing citations but also educating boaters about the rules and reasons for them.

To avoid uprooting seagrass, lift your motor, drift with the current, pole with a push pole or trollusing a trolling motor when in shallow waters. Watch your prop wash; it should be white, not brown. Please remember that no areas are closed to boating due to this regulation.

Violation of this law is a Class C misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of as much as $500.

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