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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Escambia Waterway Management looks at recreational GIS use for boaters

By Anita Doberman

The growth of Florida boating and the need to manage environmental habitats and waterways are crucial issues for coastal counties such as Santa Rosa. On June 6, representatives from the Florida Sea Grant Extension program (SGE), which uses scientific information to handle coastal areas and resources, held a meeting to discuss waterways management issues. SGE presented scientific data, collected through studies conducted in southwest Florida, and proposed the possible use of a recreational boating geographic information system (GIS) in Santa Rosa County.

Robert Swett and Charles Sidman from the University of Florida Sea Grant Extension made a convincing case for the use of GIS through previous studies conducted in southwest Florida. GIS allows researchers to look at numerous variables based on scientific data. They were able to propose a satisfactory plan that included a look at competing interests, such as boaters concerns versus environmental hazards and state and federal regulations. Through data gathered, researchers were able to identify key issues for coastal areas such as the need for and obstacles in the creation of boat ramps, the importance of gathering scientific data through sample selection and boater surveys. Resulting data gave researchers insight into problems concerning congested areas, manatees and various environmental issues relating to waterways management. GIS allowed researchers to get a clear picture of the variables involved and devise efficient plans for waterways management.

"Consequently, the need for improved waterway access and maintenance, greater public safety, improved boater education, and enhanced resource management will need to follow" said Sidman and Swett.

In addition, the researchers explained that environmental concerns are a main problem in the management of Florida waterways. "The state has extremely shallow estuaries and bays and there is enormous environmental pressure... 25% of manatees' deaths occur because of collisions with boats and more than 180,000 acres of sea grass habitat have been affected."

Members of the MAC are planning to meet again the first week of August to discuss future plans and the possible use of the GIS data. To learn more about this study log on to the Florida Sea Grant website.

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