For most of the twentieth century, airboats have been a staple of touring the Florida Everglades. New rules, though, are about the silence them once and for all.
When the National Park Service acquired additional land for Everglades National Park in the late 1980s, the acquisition included some 110,000 acres where professional airboat pilots operated, many of them for tourists.
It has been a particularly bad summer for airboating in Florida. In July, passengers on three different airboats had to be located and rescued by helicopter, and in September, an airboat collision sent more than a dozen people to the hospital.
But it wasn't those incidents that sealed their fate. The Everglades are getting squeezed by a polluted water table and other environmental stresses, and the National Park Service determined that the loud vehicles were terrifying wildlife and damaging the ecosystem. A typical airboat can be as loud as 90 decibels, or about as loud as a hair dryer right beside your ear.
No new airboat permits are being issued in the park. Only those who can prove they were operated before the land acquisition in 1989 may continue to run airboats, and those licenses will never be renewed. They will expire with the deaths of the current operators, most of whom are now older than 60 years.
The only other airboat operators will be four approved tourism contractors, but the number of runs they are allowed to make will be sharply curtailed and monitored by the Department of the Interior.
Airboat rides may still be given on land not owned by the National Park system, such as on state-owned land in the middle and north of the state. But airboating as we know it within the preserve of the 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park is finished. The crackdown begins in a few weeks.