UF alumni give Florida Museum research boat for shark program
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Hell’s Bay Boatworks Inc. are donating a custom boat and trailer valued at more than $50,000 to support the University of Florida’s Program for Shark Research.
The 18-foot flats boat features an exclusive shark-themed wrap designed by renowned marine wildlife artist and scientist Guy Harvey. It is entered in the University of Florida Homecoming parade Friday and will be displayed afterward at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house at 1904 W. University Ave.
“I am delighted and grateful to accept this boat for our research initiatives,” said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “The partnership of Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Hell’s Bay Boatworks, and our shark program powerfully furthers our shared goal of enlightened management and conservation of the oceans.”
Four UF alumni are involved with the donation. Steve Stock, CEO of Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Guy Harvey Inc. of Davie, and Chris and Wendi Peterson, co-owners of Hell’s Bay Boatworks of Titusville, are donating the boat, motor and trailer. Michael Benedict, whose Daytona Beach advertising agency clients include both companies, introduced the corporations for the collaboration.
“We all bleed orange and blue,” Stock said. “We’re proud to be giving back to the University of Florida and taking the initiative of preserving the world’s oceans together.”
The custom-made boat does not draw much water and is useful for studying sharks and rays in their shallow marine habitats, Burgess said. Burgess and his team will use the boat to monitor shark and ray nursery areas in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, Indian River Lagoon, Florida Bay and Florida Keys to ensure normal migration out of the shallows of Florida.
“We custom made this boat to easily and quietly access even rougher shallow-water areas,” Peterson said. “It’s designed to avoid damaging the very resources that we’re researching and working to preserve.”
The front of the boat is flat and low to the water. It includes a special railing that allows researchers to work close to the water and prevents equipment from sliding off the boat, Peterson said. It also has a side-mounted steering console to provide more floor space for research equipment.
Burgess’ current work focuses on the recovery of smalltooth and largetooth sawfish. The smalltooth sawfish is the first endangered marine species listed in U.S. waters and the largetooth is proposed for endangered species status.
“Since full recovery of sawfish is going to take about 100 years, education of both the general public and the next generation of scientists is very important to our conservation initiatives,” Burgess said. “This endangered species is at our doorstep and we need to reach out to the public about protecting its critical habitats.”
Burgess is an appointed member of the National Marine Fisheries Service Smalltooth Sawfish Implementation Team which oversees recovery of the endangered species. In addition to its research initiatives, the Florida Program for Shark Research promotes recovery awareness through websites, classroom teaching and production of educational materials. The team also maintains the National Sawfish Encounter Database, which lists all known records of sawfishes in the U.S and is supported by the federal government, and the International Shark Attack File, a record of worldwide shark attacks currently supported by a grant from the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.
“George is frequently the scientific voice of reason during the Discovery Channel’s shark week program of blood, guts and gore,” Stock said. “At the end of the day, it’s necessary to speak factually when educating the public about sharks. That’s why the shark attack files are important.”
The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation also is raffling another boat donated by Peer Gynt USA, and plans to give a portion of the proceeds to the shark research program. The 26-foot boat, valued at $125,000, will be displayed at the Pi Kappa Alpha house during Homecoming.