Everglades National Park protects the southern twenty percent of the original Everglades ecosystem in Florida. Park officials were determined to find a way to protect the fragile ecosystem that encompasses the Ten Thousand Islands area on the Gulf coast and across Florida Bay, the United States’ largest subtropical wilderness. Of the thousands of visitors to this 1.5-million-acre protected wetland, many explore the park’s open water in Florida Bay or along the coast in Ten Thousand Islands. Unfortunately, this use is damaging the very habitat that makes this park so special. Finding a way to provide boaters with the knowledge and awareness they need to stay safe and avoid harming shallow seagrass meadows and wildlife while on the water became a priority of the Park and region.
The Park used the 2015 general management plan to build consensus that the resources required protection from unintended and uniformed visitor damage. The solution was to develop key messages for boaters in this unique marine environment. With support from the South Florida Trust, Everglades National Park called upon the Eppley Institute to help solve the problem of boater damage to the natural resources of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas wilderness. Eppley worked with the Park and boating community to develop an online Boater Education Program focusing on safety and protection the shallow sea bottom, seagrass, and wildlife. Offered online in both Spanish and English, the course is required of boaters, who when they complete the course gain a certificate allowing them to boat in the Everglades National Park marine waters. The overall hope: better boater stewardship that respects park resources and other users.
As our national parks and public lands face increasing visitation, use by inexperienced and unknowing visitors, and threats from global climate change, protecting resources is an ever more difficult and important mission. Educating park users with the information they need to steward public lands is an escalating task across public land management agencies. Recent courses for snowmobilers in Yellowstone National Park and boaters in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary have begun to fill the need to develop informed and appreciative users whose public land activities support the delicate balance of visitor enjoyment and resource stewardship.
For more information on the Everglades Boater Education Program, please visit Boating in Everglades National Park. For more information on how Eppley can help your agency with improving visitor education and behavior, please contact the Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org.