Over the scream of the engine, I had the pleasure of taking part in a tour of the Florida glades by way of hovercraft—a large, floating vehicle that makes use of multiple high-power fans in order to “skim” over the low water and float on top. Our goal was to see as much of the natural wildlife as possible, and, armed with cameras and our guide, we set out into the alligator and bird-infested space of marshy glade that seemed to stretch out for miles in every direction.
There were many things that we witnessed on our trip, but one thing that comes to the forefront of my mind would be the craft itself. Large, fast, and quite literally hovering over the water itself, it seemed like something out of science fiction. The seating was comfortable and the guide kind, and when we picked up speed it was as exhilarating as an amusement park ride. There was one thing about it that continued to nag at me, though—the hovercraft was very, very loud.
As I enjoyed myself, it was admittedly hard to contemplate the consequences of my actions. What may seem like a lot of fun could have adverse effects that last far longer than something as fleeting as enjoyment; now, looking back upon my Florida trip, I believe that this hovercraft ride may have been one of those times. The craft’s sheer volume made it almost impossible to hear anything being said between my friends, and the ripples that the vehicle sent out through the water were immense. The air itself seemed to vibrate, let alone the water, and through the cacophony we stared and pointed in awe of nature’s beauty.
What we did not consider was the implications that such a craft had on the surrounding wildlife, and how the volumes of such noisy traffic could affect their natural state. These craft are fast and loud, capable of traversing the marshes with little effort, and there exists no shortage of tourists ready to take advantage of them. Ecosystems exist in a state of balance that makes even the slightest of intrusions escalate into a domino effect that can prove lethal for native lifeforms that are unused to the newcomers. I do not argue that humans are in any way new to the glades of Florida, but these hovercraft are certainly one of its more recent inventions.
As I ponder the implications that such vehicles have on the environment, I am forced to consider the fact that they cause very little physical damage to the terrain over which they skim. Despite its considerable weight when loaded up with tourists, these craft manipulate the wind into gliding easily over many obstacles, and therefore it can only be assumed that even directly striking a larger form of underwater life with the craft would prove only an inconvenience for the animal. It is my belief that the dangers of the craft are not its role as an environmental wrecking ball per se, but rather a polluter.
Noise pollution can be as dangerous to fish and fowl as direct dumping of waste, as is constantly shown by the whales who beach themselves in their attempt to escape military naval drills. Loud noises affect animals with sensitive hearing the most, and those who rely on echolocation as a sense find themselves disoriented and often traumatized by the event, left stunned or otherwise fleeing from the source of their sudden blindness. My friends and I caused this damage without ever noticing, or even considering the possibility that our own enjoyment may have come with the cost.
This is the true tragedy of the event, in my opinion. In our attempts to enjoy the environment, we were disturbing it as well. In scouting we are taught to “leave no trace,” emphasizing the preservation of that which we value. It is easy to overlook the little things when they look harmless, but years to contemplate the save activity could turn the stone to a darker, more murky side. We wanted to learn—to grow, to explore, and to witness what the Florida glades had to offer, and even then, there was one thing we could not ourselves even enjoy.
As I write this, I wonder about the sound of the glades. If they had any, or if, in the excitement of fast travel and remarkable technology, we all forgot to think about what it might have been like to simply wade through the marshes and listen. We did not hear bird, nor the wind, nor the water, nor the wildlife. All we could hear was the roar of the engine and the rush of air as we sped along. This saddens me, for as I have aged I have found myself enjoying the smaller things in nature. The sound of stillness—of silence and peaceful existence—is something that each of us are very rarely blessed with. While some may go mad in such a stillness, I find myself more energized by it than the fastest hovercraft could provide.
All of this is not to say that I did not like the trip, or otherwise look at it with regret. I highly value the experience I was able to share with my closest, lifelong friends, and being able to witness the beauty of Florida in such a manner is, for some, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will continue to treasure. If given the chance, I may even partake of glades again, hoping to spot the alligators and herons that call the endless spanses home.
This time, however, I believe I will simply pack some wading boots and watch from the shore, comfortable with the only wind being that which blows across the glades.