JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The best way to get you to care about the St. Johns River is to get you out on it.
That's the idea behind the St. Johns Riverkeeper EcoTours. Take a boat ride with them and learn how you can help protect your river.
"We just want to get people out on the tributaries and on the St. Johns River just so we all learn about it and have a memory that we want to protect," said St. Johns Riverkeeper Education Director Emily Floore.
Looking at Florida's longest river, you can see there's a lot to want to protect. Floore says there's also a lot to protect that you can't see.
"Some of our bigger issues are saltwater intrusion," she said. "One of the issues that Riverkeeper has been fighting against for many, many years has been the dredging of the St. Johns River."
Saltwater intrusion means there's less freshwater where seagrass grows for manatees to eat. Nearly 900 manatees have reportedly died so far this year, mostly from starvation.
This is just one reason on one topic to protect the river.
"In order to get those boats into rivers, we have to dig the river deeper," Floore said.
"The issues that come with that is that we have a lot of what's called legacy pollutants. So when you have pollutants that don't dissolve in the water, they just settle into the sediment. And so when you dig a hole, you're really suspending those legacy pollutants back up into the water column, which can then get into the fish, which then affects the birds when they eat the fish. So we're starting to see this biomagnification of these toxins, or we could if the dredging continued like that."
Floore says this also creates a river that's more of a "straight highway" without wetland areas that help stop the wakes of large boats.
"With sea level rise that we're seeing in Jacksonville, we're seeing them rise a lot higher because of that straight highway," she said.
Floore hopes people take what they learn on the boat to the ballot box.
"Voting people in that want to make a difference," Floore said. "The fact that we are getting a plan for the downtown Landing area that has a living shoreline included in it is very awesome."
Living shorelines help against sea level rise. Floore says the easiest thing you can do to help the river is to conserve water.
EcoTours are every third Wednesday of the month. The Riverkeeper also has a 'go take a hike' program. Register online here.