Bees, Butterflies… Boats? | Ohio Sea Grant

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Bees, Butterflies… Boats?

12:00 pm, Thu September 28, 2023 – The Ohio Clean Marinas Program equipped several Ohio marinas with native plants, providing habitat for insect pollinators like bees and butterflies

Marinas around Ohio are not only keeping waterways clean — they’re now also protecting pollinators.

The Ohio Clean Marinas Program, a partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Watercraft, the Ohio Office of Coastal Management, and Ohio Sea Grant, worked with The Ohio State University’s Bee Lab to equip several Ohio marinas with native plants that serve as habitats for insect pollinators like bees and butterflies.

“We don’t all have an acre or even a large yard to plant for pollinators, but these demonstration sites help people see that even a small 6-by-10 plot can be beautiful and help to increase biodiversity,” said Denise Ellsworth, program director for pollinator education at Ohio State’s Department of Entomology and Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

A plot of tall flowers near a beach

Native flowers, which provide abundant nectar and pollen for beneficial insects, flourished at Gem Beach Marina in Port Clinton shortly after being planted in 2019.

Sarah Orlando, Ohio Clean Marinas program manager, organized the effort after learning that the Bee Lab in Wooster was distributing native plants to public sites around the state. Each spring since 2019, Orlando picked up plants from Ellsworth to give to interested marinas – over 8 marinas in total. This year, that included 20 flats each with about 30 native perennials.

“I’m able to help drop off and coordinate picking up the plants, but by working through the Clean Marinas Program, I’ll also help make sure marinas have the guidance or the connections with their local extension office or master gardeners program to make sure the plants do well,” Orlando said.

That partnership and interaction with these plant experts have increased marina operators’ knowledge about pollinators and helped sustain the plants for years to come.

In addition to their beauty and benefits for pollinators, native plants are characteristically low maintenance, Orlando said. The plants are suited for the natural environment and require less water, time and money.

“I have a black thumb, so if I can plant a pollinator habitat and make it work, anybody can,” Orlando said. “I tell all the marinas that if you nurture the plants a bit in the beginning, they should mature within 2-5 years. They’re very self-sustaining.”

The Gem Beach Marina on Catawba Island, for example, used plants from Orlando’s initiative to create a 12-by-12-foot plot in 2019 that is now flourishing and self-sufficient.

“The plot is beautiful and has pollinators utilizing it every time we walk by on our way to enjoy the beach and lake,” said Joshua Dykstra, environmental programs representative for the marina and director and president of Eriesponsible. “We have some other projects in the area that have used native plants, and we feel it is the right direction for the flora and fauna on Catawba Island.”

Meanwhile, the Bay Boat Club in Bay Village received native flowers like bee balm, ironweed, and hairy beardtongue and planted and maintained them near their parking area.

“The plants added extra beauty to the Bay Boat Club and, along with our milkweed, allowed us to be designated as a monarch butterfly waystation,” said Richard Gash.

flowers blooming near a fence

Grouping native plants in clusters, like the iron butterfly ironweed pictured here at Bay Boat Club, makes them easiser for pollinators to find.

To date, Ellsworth has partnered with 70 public sites across Ohio to demonstrate how native plants can attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. This year, the plant selections aimed to highlight bumblebees, specialist bees, and butterflies and moths.

“One ironweed plant can feed dozens of the ironweed specialist bee larvae, which only feed on ironweed pollen,” Ellsworth said. “This makes plants like ironweed, aster and goldenrod as important to these little native bees as milkweed is to monarch butterflies. Most of the bees in Ohio are solitary and quite docile and frankly go unobserved and underappreciated.”

Orlando said she hopes the native plant plots will help encourage people to create their own pollinator habitat.

“My hope is that people get to see how low maintenance and beneficial the plants are and maybe they look at other plots on their property to do more,” she said. “It’s that culture change we need to have of where it becomes the norm to have areas where it’s not mowed. It doesn’t mean that it’s not maintained, it’s just managed for wildlife.”

To learn how you, too, can create a pollinator plot, visit Marina operators can contact Orlando at, and other interested groups can contact Ellsworth at

Ohio Sea Grant is part of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, School of Environment and Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension, and NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 34 Sea Grant programs nation-wide dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. For more information, visit

The Ohio Clean Marinas Program is a partnership between Ohio Sea Grant and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which started in 2005, to recognize marinas that choose to adopt best management practices to improve the environmental, educational and economic aspects of their operations. Financial assistance for the program is provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Ohio Coastal Management Program, administered by the ODNR Office of Coastal Management. Additional funding is provided by the ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft and Ohio Sea Grant. To learn more about the Ohio Clean Marinas Program, visit

ARTICLE TITLE: Bees, Butterflies… Boats? PUBLISHED: 12:00 pm, Thu September 28, 2023 | MODIFIED: 12:59 pm, Fri September 29, 2023
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