Image of Boating Impact Workshop cover
The Environmental Impacts of Boating;
Proceedings of a Workshop held at
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole MA USA
December 7 to 9, 1994
edited by
Richard Crawford, Nils Stolpe and Michael Moore
Link to NJ Fishing Consumer Alert page Link to NJ Fishing Consumer Alert page
The workshop that resulted in these proceedings was the first attempt at bringing together a group of experts in various fields to address the potential negative impacts of high-level recreational boating on estuarine productivity. While only a limited number of printed copies of the proceedings were produced, the will be posted on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's web site in the near future and are available on-disk (in unedited form) from Michael Moore whose address is provided below. 

[Link to NJ FishNet #12for a FishNet edition that discusses boating impacts and provides links to other sites]
Executive Summary 

Substantiated impacts of boating activity that were discussed at this workshop include: sediment and contaminant resuspension and resultant turbidity; laceration of aquatic vegetation with loss of faunal habitat and substrate stability; toxic effects of chemical emissions of boat engines; increased turbulence; shearing of plankton; shorebird disturbance; and the biological effects of chemically treated wood used in dock and bulkhead construction. These discussions revealed that many of the issues of concern remain inadequately defined and described. But sufficient hard data was referred to or presented to substantiate the inference that recreational and commercial motor boat operation is far from a benign influence on aquatic and marine environments. This is particularly so in temperate climes due to the unfortunate synchrony, with only a few exceptions, between the peak seasons for boating and the occurrence of planktonic embryonic and larval stages of vertebrates and invertebrates in estuaries and coastal waters. Therefore, the chance of plants and organisms being affected by power boat operation appears to be substantial in shallow, heavily used boating areas such as those along the entire U.S. eastern and Gulf coasts. As such, motor boat operation ought to be regarded as a privilege which requires due consideration of environmental impacts, and should be conducted and managed in such a manner as to minimize those impacts. 


This workshop was born from the interest of an informal network of concerned individuals. The meeting was conceived to be more than simply a data workshop, a character that is reflected in this document. Instead, the meeting was intended to be a time to share data and discuss hypotheses and speculations. The object of the discussions was to consider the jigsaw puzzle of potential impacts of boats in the aquatic environment. It was recognized that workshop results would not represent definitive descriptions of boating impacts. Instead it was hoped that the meeting would define some of the boundaries of the impacts jigsaw puzzle. At the same time, it was acknowledged that many of the puzzle pieces would be left in outline form. 

The steering committee invited representatives from industry, government, science and the environmental lobby to the workshop. The attendees included administrators, consultants, writers, economists, research scientists and environmental advocates. The only invited group that chose not to attend the meeting was industry. 

Our charge at the workshop was to examine boating activities in different habitats according to the spectrum of no impact to high impact, to consider what are the best indicators to measure those impacts, and to begin to focus on the critical agents of change. This approach is illustrated by a brief case study where there is little question of boating having a severe impact in the Norfolk Broads in England. There, about 250 miles of rivers run through a series of medieval peat diggings that make broad lakes anything up to a mile or two in length. The banks of the rivers are peat, and the bottoms soft mud. Seasonal rental power boats cause massive traffic problems as well as bank erosion, turbidity, macrophyte shearing, chronic habitat disturbance, noise, and pollution from boat sewage. Solutions have been hard to find, as the local economy is heavily tourist dependent. Speed limits, pump-outs and bulkheads on the river banks are the primary management tools currently in evidence. In spite of the fact that boating activity has an evident impact in that region, there is insufficient definitive understanding of how boating affects shallow systems to help planners and managers design additional measures that would help to minimize environmental consequences while allowing boating activity to continue. It was the hope of workshop organizers that the discussions at this meeting would provide kernels for the efforts of the diverse group of attendees to help design such measures. 

The agenda of the workshop was to hear perspectives from managers, economists, statisticians, and scientists on the issues at hand: the biological, physical and chemical effects of recreational boating activity as it relates to hulls of pleasure craft being propelled through the water. We intentionally avoided the separate issue of boat sewage discharge as it is a separate workshop unto itself. The deliberations were to be rational and based on science, rather than foregone conclusions. 

At the conclusion of the formal presentations, participants were to gather into groups to discuss the issues that were raised as well as related issues that were not, and generate working statements relevant to these goals. The general theme of each working group was to be decided at the conclusion of the presentations. The themes would reflect the issues that had received the most emphasis in both the formal presentations as well as during the question-and-answer period that followed each presentation. The participants in the working groups were charged with the following questions: 

  • What do we know?
  • What do we not know but need to?
  • What research is currently in progress?
  • What research collaborations should be established?
  • Where should funds be sought to pursue these goals?
  • Which issues are, can and should be managed by legislation?
  • What is an appropriate legislative agenda at the national and state level?
The proximate goal of the workshop was to generate a working document to define issues relevant to the effects of boating activities. In spite of the fact that the study of boating impacts is in its early stages, there is a substantial body of literature, much of it from England, that is relevant to the issues discussed here. Workshop participants were to review what is known and to chart' research and management needs and how these might be addressed. Our ultimate goal was to focus academic, political and legislative consciousness toward boating-related issues that may be damaging to the health of our coastal and freshwater ecosystems and consequently damaging to the long term viability of regional economies. 

This document is an edited proceedings of the workshop. Some of the presentations were reports of new information about well established, long known impacts such as turbidity and bird disturbance. Other topics, such as the toxic effect of engine exhaust and propeller shearing questions, have been little studied in the boating context. Because of the embryonic nature of many of the ideas discussed at the workshop, it developed a somewhat fluid format that is reflected in these proceedings. 

Some talks referred to visual material not included in these proceedings; several were not supported by written text other than abstracts. To enhance the readability of this document, the editors have taken editorial liberties to help convey the message of the author of a presentation. Most of the presentations are reported as edited versions of text submitted by the author or as edited transcripts of a verbatim recording. Appropriate unedited tables and figures are included, if available. The presentation by George McCarthy was supported by text taken from a more formally structured manuscript under development for subsequent publication elsewhere. A synopsis of this text has been included in this proceedings. When data from completed studies was mentioned in a talk, appropriate references are given in this compilation. Several bibliographies of literature pertinent to the topics discussed at the workshop are included in the Appendices. 

The contents of this proceedings are to be considered descriptions of works-in-progress. They cannot be cited without the permission of the authors of the various presentations. As noted in the Acknowledgments section, unedited transcripts of the presentations are available (on disk) from Michael Moore, MS 33, WHOI, Woods Hole, MA 02543. 

In editing these transcripts we have forgone efforts to maintain the character of the presenters' individual manners of speech in favor of producing a document with consistent style and format. The exception is the Question and Answer sessions. These have been included in a modestly edited form to retain the deportment of the discussions, a fundamental element of the future of the issues forming the crux of the workshop. The sequential order of the papers has been reorganized from that of the workshop to better maintain a logical format within this document. We hope that this report will be used as a source of discussion to stimulate new research ideas and generate new management concerns and/or plans in those instances when the material is relevant. 

In this regard, the findings of the working groups provide useful overviews of what we know and what we need to know. Toward this end, one of the most remarkable aspects of this workshop was the revelation of the greater activity and knowledge base of many state-level environmental managers than that for members of the academic and research communities. This in part reflects the applied nature of the issues but it also points to a real need for increased funding for research in all of the areas considered at the workshop, an appraisal which is described in greater detail in these proceedings. 

NOTE: These proceedings are presently being prepared for placement on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's web site. As soon as that is accomplished we will provide a link to the proper location.