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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

Boat safely, mind the world's oceans, please?

As one season ends, another is beginning in Florida.

And if you trust the numbers, the gridlock on the state's waterways could soon rival that on our roadways.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission statistics, 2003 boat registrations reached an all-time high of 978,225 vessels in 2003, up more than 55,000 from 2002.

"Unfortunately, the fatality numbers increased from 52 in 2002 to 64 in 2003," FWC assistant boating safety coordinator Lt. Kent Harvey added.

More boats, more problems.

Leading cause of death in fatal boating accidents was drowning at 70 percent, followed by trauma at 28 percent.

Harvey said "an astonishing 80 percent of the people involved in accidents were not wearing life jackets, and many deaths and injuries could have been prevented simply by exercising caution and by wearing a life jacket."

He added that 36 percent of the accidents involved people who didn't know how to swim. Go figure.

There's a simple "fix" to boater accidents, Harvey said. Take a boater education course, adhere to the basic navigation rules and stay sober.

Here are a few Roat Rules for boating, learned after many, many stupid things done on the water over the years.

Of course, you have life jackets on board. It's the law. Do you know how they work? What about your passengers?

Before setting off on a day on the water, make sure everybody knows how to buckle up their life jacket. It's a good idea to have everybody get fitted, then put a strip of tape on their customized life vest and put their name on it to avoid any last-minute scrambling if the need occurs.

Tell the kids the bright colors look cool and insist they leave the vests on.

Give everybody a short course in how to run the boat. Ignition, forward, reverse, neutral, how to steer, things like that. There're few things worse that can happen than if you get tossed over the side and nobody knows how to run the boat to come back and collect you.

My old buddy Randy Wayne White, author and fishing guide, has a special rule about hats. You can expect to lose at least one on about every trip. Make sure you have a net to scoop the thing up out of the water, otherwise you'll probably lose a passenger who bends too far overboard and ... splash!

And at the risk of becoming a Capt. Bligh, make sure everyone aboard knows what to do, or not to do, during any tricky maneuvering - like anchoring or docking. Tell them what is going to happen and what their role is in the process before the process starts.

Well do I remember a time when everybody decided to help moor my little boat and nearly tipped it over when five people all rushed to the same side at the same time.

And then there was the time I had someone else drop the hook and failed to check it before we all piled out to swim ashore. Trust me when I tell you that some of the most awful words you can hear are, "Isn't that your boat drifting away in the Gulf?"

FWC law enforcement is on duty 24 hours a day and can be contacted at 1-888-404-3922 or # FWC, or (pound sign on the phone) *FWC in some areas on a cell phone. Don't hesitate to contact them if you see somebody doing something spectacularly stupid.

And be careful out there.

Ocean help solicited
The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy has released a report on the planet's oceans, and it's pretty grim.

The key need appears to be "sustainability," and the task of preserving and protecting the waters of the world is a task that we all should heed.

"Our oceans and coasts are in trouble, and we as a nation have an historic opportunity to make a positive and lasting change in the way we manage them before it is too late," said retired U.S. Navy Admiral James D. Watkins, chair of the group that drafted the guidelines, in a press release.

"If the recommendations contained in our report are adopted, we will create sustainable oceans and coasts for many, many years. We will create sustainable ocean resources, sustainable fisheries, sustainable recreation for our children and their children, sustainable economic development and a sustainable future for our oceans and coasts."

The last comprehensive review of U.S. Ocean Policy was conducted 35 years ago. Since then, more than 37 million people, 19 million homes, and countless businesses have been added to coastal areas. Marine transportation and coastal recreation and tourism have become two of the top drivers of the national economy.

Coastal areas are essential spawning, feeding and nursery areas for over three quarters of U.S. commercial fish catches. However, about 40,000 acres of coastal wetlands disappear yearly. Current projections indicate up to 60 percent of coral reefs may be lost during the next 30 years. Twelve billion tons of ballast water is shipped around the world each year, spreading alien and invasive species like the invasive Asian green mussel.

"The over-arching theme of the commission's preliminary recommendations is ecosystem-based management," according to the report. "The commission concluded that it is critical that ocean and coastal resources be managed to reflect the complex interrelationships among the ocean, land, air, and all living creatures, including humans, and consider the interactions among the multiple activities that affect entire systems.

"A new national ocean policy framework must be established to improve federal leadership and coordination to enable agencies to address the ocean, land and air as one inter-connected system. This framework also enhances opportunities for state, territorial, tribal, and local entities to develop common regional goals and priorities. The commission found that policies and decisions about ocean and coastal resources need to be based on the most current, unbiased, credible scientific information.

"The report also focuses on the importance of enhancing ocean education to improve decision makers' understanding of the oceans, for the general public to develop a sense of stewardship, and to prepare a new generation of leaders to confront issues dealing with oceans and coasts."

And you can help, too.

The report is available on-line at oceancommission.gov. Give it a read and offer your thoughts by May 21. Once all comments are integrated, the final report will go to President Bush and Congress.

OK, I'll admit the report doesn't read as fast as a Doc Ford novel, but our planet seems to be worth it, doesn't it?

'Pond-er' this on Mother's Day
Despite that awful pun, the Florida West Coast Koi and Water Garden Club is offering what sounds like a pretty nice excursion on Mother's Day, May 9 - a tour of 12 water gardens in the Sarasota area.

The tour begins at the Florida House, Beneva and Proctor Roads at 4600 Beneva Road S., Sarasota, beginning at 10 a.m. Tickets are $5, children under 12 are free, and the ticket is a booklet that maps and describes the tour sites which you may visit at your leisure until 4 p.m. that day.

"Ponds featured on this tour are constructed in various ways," according to the club. "Some ponds use a special liner material, some are pre-formed while others are made of concrete. You will see some professionally installed ponds and others are do-it-yourself pieces of art."

For more information about the club call 378-9146.

Sandscript factoid
Here's some water thoughts regarding the importance of the oceans. In the United States annually:
Ports handle $700 billion of goods and services.
Offshore oil and gas produces $25-40 billion.
Commercial fishing generates $28 billion.
Recreational fishing brings in $20 billion.
Cruise ships produce $11 billion.
And ornamental fish farms - fish and products related to aquariums - net $3 billion.

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