Thursday, March 13, 2014

Volunteers marking channels in Florida Bay

by David Trigg, Flamingo Volunteer
David (standing center) and Sarah (bending down) Trigg

What has 436 legs, all up in the air, and exists to enhance the visitor experience and protect much of the sea grass resource found throughout Florida Bay? That number represents the number of channel marking posts in place across Florida Bay; used as aids to navigation for both new and seasoned operators, piloting all manner of craft on the Bay.

The Coast Guard maintains a major route of travel into the Flamingo Marina and along the park boundary, but what of all those 4x4’s, pvc pipes and wandings? Delineating Pole/Troll zones and grass flats from the deeper water channels, all are used by skiffs, canoes and shallow draft sailboats.

The effort is to make clear to the visitor the most reasonable path to access remote areas while protecting the sea grass and the more fragile areas of the bay. The very shallow areas can then be accessed by less intrusive means such as paddle, push pole or trolling motor. The marked channels also play a vital role for visitors traveling at night and for law enforcement and rescue personnel to quickly get “on scene” should an emergency occur. Though the science is not complete, regarding the amount of protection provided by defined routes, the system does make it more likely that a visitor can get to their destination and return safely, without disruption of protected areas, and according to their float plan.

The Florida Bay Channel Marking Project has been in place for many years and is currently being supported through the cooperative efforts of the South Florida National Parks Trust (SFNPT), Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) and the Flamingo Maintenance Division headed by Robert Neuman.

Thanks to donations from the SFNPT, the channel marking team has a 25ft Carolina Skiff, a GPS chart plotter, a pair of Power Poles and a jack plate making it an ideal platform for renovating and repairing existing markers, as well as installing markers that have been damaged or destroyed over the years. The skiff also served as a base of operations during a recent whale grounding in the Highland Beach area and as a workspace during a turtle project over the summer.

The Flamingo Maintenance Division has been handling the maintenance and repairs on the skiff and keeps the team supplied with reflectors and reflective tape, hand tools, battery powered drivers and drills. Sledgehammers, scaffolding and posts and flags round out their contribution to the project. “They keep us on the water and ready to go” says David and Sarah Trigg, project VIP’s.

The Trigg's house boat

In their third year on the team, David and Sarah Trigg now make an annual 3-month commitment to maintaining the 436 markers on Florida Bay. Efforts this year are to renovate and standardize the pattern of reflectors and tape so the visitor can easily distinguish between gates (entrances to channels) and the markings alongside each channel. The Trigg’s are able to live aboard their owner made boat, the EverIsle, and perform their channel marking tasks using the Carolina Skiff. “It has been a great opportunity to live on the bay, provide a measure of safety and enhancement to the visitor and work with the support of Everglades National Park and the South Florida National Parks Trust”. The Trigg’s also serve as backcountry volunteers on the remote north shore of Isle Royale National Park during the summer months.

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