Don’t make waves in no-wake zones
BILOXI, Miss. -- In everyday life, “don’t make waves” means don’t cause trouble. On the water in no-wake zones, it means basically the same thing.
Wakes are waves created as vessels travel through the water. A no-wake zone is an area where vessels are expected to travel slowly to minimize wakes.
Most people think of no-wake zones as the speed bumps or school zones of the water, and rightfully so. Public safety is often the primary reason for these areas, which is why most no-wake zones are near boat launches, docks or residential areas. While safety is the reason many of these zones are established, reducing wakes also benefits waterfront property owners and the environment.
Property in no-wake zones benefits from decreased wave energy hitting the shoreline. The consistent hammering of boat wakes leads to erosion through wearing away at a bulkhead or washing away sediment from unprotected shorelines.
The presence of bulkheads or seawalls alone increases the overall energy, and subsequent erosion, along a shoreline by not allowing waves to dissipate. Instead, the waves bounce off the walls of the flat bulkhead and “ping-pong” around the water body. Large and frequent wakes magnify erosion concerns. Think of a bulkheaded water body as a bathtub. When you push water into the wall of a tub, it bounces back forcefully. Waves dissipate after hitting a gently sloped surface, such as a natural shoreline.
In fact, many waterfront property owners must install some type of shoreline protection to save their property from being eroded by boat wakes. They often use bulkheads or seawalls, which temporarily help prevent erosion on their property but increase problems on surrounding shoreline. An alternative suite of shoreline protection options is collectively called “living shorelines.” These projects help dissipate wave energy while also protecting shorelines and the natural benefits they provide.
Natural shorelines around no-wake zones often look much healthier, with more vegetation. Compared with areas that have fast and frequent boat traffic, the wave energy along these natural shorelines is much closer to natural waves. This is why many no-wake zones are established in environmentally sensitive areas, such as fringing marsh and intertidal oyster beds.
Coastal wetlands formed because they were in areas with relatively low wave energy and slow-moving water. The slower the water moves, the finer the sediment. That’s why sand beaches have crashing waves and muddy, mucky bayous have calm water.
With more vessel traffic and wakes in coastal wetlands, we can expect substantial amounts of erosion because those areas are not adapted to high wave energy. It’s much easier to wash away muddy sediment than sand. As coastal wetlands wash away, the natural benefits they provide go with them. Coastal wetlands are imperative to supporting seafood production, maintaining good water quality and protecting our developed coasts from storms.
Certainly, there are many reasons why no-wake zones are important. Even though these areas might slow you down, take the time to sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery as you pass through these areas. Observing the differences in shoreline characteristics caused by wakes will emphasize the importance of these areas to maintaining our prosperous coastlines.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.