TPWD reports that September marks the one-year anniversary of a law passed by the 83rd Texas Legislature prohibiting the uprooting of seagrass with the propeller of a boat within the coastal waters of Texas. Seagrasses are important as they stabilize sediments, decrease erosion, improve water quality and clarity, increase dissolved oxygen, and provide integral habitat for recreationally and commercially important species, such as red drum, black drum, and spotted seatrout.
Motorboat “prop scars” occur when a boat propeller digs into the bay bottom where seagrass 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 seagrass 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 (RBSSA) 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 seagrass in all coastal Texas waters.
Seagrasses have great economic and environmental importance. The extensive root systems found in seagrass beds stabilize sediments and reduce erosion, improve water quality and clarity, and provide habitat for invertebrates such as shrimp and crabs. Seagrasses 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, seagrass beds provide a structurally diverse habitat for recreationally and commercially important species, such as Red drum, Black drum, and Spotted seatrout. These juvenile fish can find refuge from predators in seagrass beds, as well as a copious 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 TROLL using 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 up to $500.
For more information, please visit the TPWD seagrass page (http://tpwd.texas.gov/seagrass).
Anyone with questions can send email to: [email protected].
Photo caption: Seagrass regulations in the Rockport area have reduced motorboat propeller scarring of the bay bottom by 45 percent.