Summer’s here and the time is right… for boating on the lake!
Or just about any other body of water in the state of Ohio. More than half a million boats were registered here in 2017, and all that traffic can leave a mark on Lake Erie, the Ohio River and other rivers and lakes throughout the state. To keep the environment safe and healthy for the future, a new program supporting marinas and boaters in good decision-making came to be in 2003.
The Ohio Clean Marinas Program is a proactive partnership between Ohio Sea Grant, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association (LEMTA) designed to encourage marinas and boaters to use simple solutions to keep Ohio’s waterways clean. The program, along with a companion Clean Boater program, promotes environmental stewardship and assists in protecting clean water and fresh air for future boaters.
“From the beginning, it was essential to everyone to have stakeholders from the university, the agencies and industry in the room,” said Sarah Orlando, Ohio Clean Marinas Program manager. “Each came from a different background and a different perspective on what they wanted the Clean Marinas program to be, and it helped to create the program that we ultimately have today.”
Clean Marinas: Essential Partnerships
Clean Marina certification is a five-step process and most marinas complete it in three months to a year, depending on how many best management practices they need to implement.
“We’re here to help, and we work with the marina throughout the process,” said Orlando. “We also know that these are businesses, so if there’s a management change or a delay, we work with them to still get them certified, ideally within a year.”
Because environmental conservation and ecotourism have become more prominent in people’s minds, the program also helps marina owners attract new business by certifying them as Clean Marinas. A Clean Marina is an environmentally responsible marina, and for many Lake Erie and Ohio boaters, protecting the environment where they enjoy the water is an important concern.
Spitzer Lakeside Marina in Lorain, Ohio was one of the very first marinas to join the program in 2006 and continues to be an active participant. General Manager Matt Edwards took a little while to warm up to the idea when his staff first worked on the certification, but he quickly came around once he realized just how beneficial the program could be to the marina.
The marina just recertified as a Clean Marina for another year, and Edwards expects the partnership with the Ohio Clean Marinas Program to continue in the future. “We’ve certainly been on board and enjoyed the program and everything Sarah and her staff have been able to put together over the years.”
Shrink-Wrap Recycling Program
- An additional environmental protection effort that came out of the Clean Marinas Program is the Shrink-Wrap Recycling Program, which also began in 2006. Its overall goal is to keep the plastic shrink-wrap used to protect boats during the winter out of landfills, where it takes up space and breaks apart very slowly, if at all. Until 2012, the program partnered with Mondo Polymer Technologies in Marietta, who would pick up shrink-wrap from marinas and turn them into guard rail blocks for highway construction. Since the program’s inception, 2.29 million pounds of shrink-wrap have been recycled in Ohio, with much of that plastic turned into 332,000 guard rail blocks stretching along 415 miles of highway.
- Marinas who are interested in recycling their boaters’ shrink-wrap can contact the Ohio Clean Marinas team to find a recycling partner that works best for their needs.
Partners were essential to the Clean Marinas Program from the very beginning, starting with a meeting between Ohio Sea Grant, ODNR and LEMTA at the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center in Cleveland in late 2002. “Greg Nageotte from ODNR and I had been working on this concept since the summer of 2002,” remembers Dr. Jeff Reutter, Ohio Sea Grant’s director at the time. “The Ohio Department of Natural Resources was looking for actions they could take in the coastal zone to reduce pollution going into Lake Erie.”
The few examples of existing Clean Marinas programs were run by state agencies, industry groups or Sea Grant programs, so with that in mind, “We were very pleased to be asked to lead the program, but it was really a partnership between ODNR, LEMTA and us, and that partnership continues to this day,” Reutter added. Much of the initial program funding came from ODNR, NOAA and LEMTA, with matching support from The Ohio State University and Ohio Sea Grant.
The partnership with ODNR broadened in 2015, when two additional staff members were hired to expand the certification program from the Lake Erie watershed to the entire state. Heather Sheets and Jenny Roar joined the Clean Marinas Program through the ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft, and enable the program to be all-inclusive: open to marinas along Lake Erie, on inland waterways and along the Ohio River.
A Clean Marinas advisory board also maintains the involvement of agency partners in the program and expands it to a number of different agencies such as the Ohio Department of Health and the state fire marshal’s office. Having that regular involvement not only makes sure that the team keeps ahead of any changes in regulations, but also brings in different viewpoints on what marinas can do to go above and beyond those rules.
“We’ve also always had marina owners on our advisory board, and that’s essential because we have a sounding board to the realities of what we’re asking when we come up with a new best management practice,” said Orlando. “We have the folks at the table who are actually going to be implementing these practices, and they can tell us what’s not quite going to work or bring in new ideas and challenges we haven’t even thought of.”
Clean Boaters: Protecting Waterways
In addition to marinas and the boaters that dock there, the Clean Marinas team also wanted to target boaters that may rent boats or keep smaller vessels like kayaks at home. The Ohio Clean Boater Program, started in 2006, encourages the hundreds of thousands of boaters across Ohio to do their part in protecting the waterways they use for recreation.
“The program highlights key practices that boaters should be implementing,” said Orlando. “They’re simple and easy to understand, but every boater who is doing them can make a big impact.” Examples include minimizing gasoline spills while fueling their boat, recycling or at least avoiding littering during boat trips, and practicing “clean, drain, dry,” a technique that helps boaters avoid the spread of invasive species from one body of water to another.
“Any boater can participate in the Ohio Clean Boater program, whether they’re at a certified Clean Marina or not,” Orlando continued. “No matter where you are in the state of Ohio, if you’re on the water somewhere, there are things you can do to help, and we want to recognize and support those who pay attention to simple things they can do to keep our water clean and safe.”
But really, the cost savings aren’t what the Ohio Clean Marinas Program is about. “At the end of the day, the marinas aren’t going to save a ton of money by being a certified Clean Marina, or by shrink-wrap recycling, and they know that,” said Orlando. “They’re participating because they know it’s the right thing. They know they’re a business that relies on clean water to thrive, and they are participating in the active protection of that water resource, which ultimately helps their business in the long term.”
To continue recruiting marinas to the program – and to keep things interesting for the marinas that have been around for a while – the Clean Marinas team is developing a new tiered certification system that will recognize marinas going above and beyond the baseline requirements and giving currently certified marinas new goals to work toward. Two additional tiers beyond the basic certification will incorporate new science on best management practices, as well as ideas that wouldn’t be a new clean marina’s initial focus, but make good add-ons once those initial steps are completed.
“Some examples of the things we’re thinking about are a greater emphasis on native plants, for example,” said Orlando. “So we really want to make sure the marinas are doing landscaping that involves native vegetation, stabilizing the shoreline but encouraging what we call a living or natural shoreline that helps with erosion control but also creates habitat for wildlife and makes it a more natural and more of a clean marina-type environment.”
With updates like these, and frequent exchange of ideas with Clean Marinas programs in other Great Lakes states, the Ohio Clean Marinas team continues to keep Lake Erie clean and healthy, one marina and one boater at a time.