Marinas Growing Green Infrastructure in the Great Lakes | Ohio Sea Grant

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Marinas Growing Green Infrastructure in the Great Lakes

12:00 pm, Tue March 26, 2024 – Marinas on the Great Lakes are now better equipped to reduce runoff and improve sustainability thanks to a collaboration between Sea Grant programs and The Ohio State University researchers

Marinas on the Great Lakes are now better equipped to reduce runoff and improve sustainability thanks to a collaboration between Sea Grant programs and The Ohio State University researchers.

The project, which began in 2019, aimed to improve stormwater management at Great Lakes marinas by implementing green infrastructure. Five years later, it’s made tangible impacts in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin through demonstration sites, an online toolkit, water quality monitoring research, and more.

a rain garden with a marina in the background

The project established a rain garden, pictured here, as a form of green infrastructure at Holiday Harbor Marina in Huron, OH.

“Green infrastructure is an environmentally sustainable way to harness the power of nature to improve water quality,” said Dr. Scott Hardy, Ohio Sea Grant extension educator. “This was an opportunity not only to do the research, but also to create education and awareness about the issue and how to deal with it.”

The opportunity was made possible by a grant from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, an endowment established by seven states in 1989 to support projects that enhance the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem, with supplemental funding for education and outreach from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and research from Contech Engineered Solutions. Led by Michigan Sea Grant, teams from the Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs implemented four green infrastructure pilot projects across the three states.

The projects addressed multiple environmental problems. For one, stormwater runoff carries pollution from land into nearby bodies of water, a phenomenon made worse by more frequent and severe storms due to climate change. What’s more, marinas can release pollutants — oil, grease, antifreeze, boat paint, among others — and exacerbate runoff with impervious parking lots and rooftops. This puts marinas in a unique position to become a part of the solution.

“Marinas are kind of that last chance to deal with water pollution issues before all that runoff carrying pollution from land ends up in the water,” Hardy said. “It’s your last opportunity to clean the water before it gets into the Great Lakes.”

Marinas offer a “last chance” opportunity to treat and manage stormwater runoff before it enters the Great Lakes. .

At each marina, teams implemented stormwater best management practices designed by engineers from Ohio State’s Stormwater Management Program, led by Dr. Ryan Winston, assistant professor in the Departments of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering and Civil, Environmental, and Geodetic Engineering. These green infrastructure methods slow down, store, and filter rainwater before it reaches the Great Lakes. Winston’s team used bioretention, also called rain gardens, as well as wetlands to filter out pollutants.

“With rain gardens, the water comes in and filters vertically through the soil, and there’s a drain in the bottom of that filter,” Winston said. “It essentially works like an oil filter in your car. You’re just using the soil and the vegetation to strip the pollution out of the stormwater.”

In Ohio, Hardy and Sarah Orlando, Clean Marinas program manager for Ohio Sea Grant, worked with Winston’s team to establish a demonstration site with green infrastructure at Holiday Harbor Marina in Huron, OH. The marina owners were the end user of the project, Orlando said, so understanding their needs and building trust was essential.

“There’s a lot of these really cool, fancy looking stormwater practices, but they might not be practical for a privately-owned, mom-and-pop marina that doesn’t have a full-time maintenance staff that a public marina might have,” Orlando said. “So we actually adapted the project so that it was as easy and low maintenance as possible for the marina to be successful after the project is complete.”

an illustration showing water being filtered through a rain garden

Rain gardens are depressed areas with engineered soils and native and/or long-rooted plants to collect stormwater that allow it to be stored, be taken up by plants, or infiltrate into the ground.

Orlando and Hardy also worked on envisioning and developing the project’s Clean Marina Stormwater Toolkit to help marina owners and operators learn, visualize, and choose the best practices for their facilities. The website features a wealth of information about stormwater best management practices and green infrastructure with examples from completed projects.

“It’s built and written for marina owners in hopes that we can bridge the gap,” Orlando said. “For people who have a limited understanding of stormwater and no experience with green infrastructure, we can hopefully convince you that you can put green infrastructure in a marina because we now have on-the-ground examples. We can show you they’re a reality, and you could call up the marina owner and talk to them.”

“It helps everybody from marina owners and operators, to boaters, to policymakers,” Hardy said. “It helps them better understand the situation and make decisions about how to address water quality.”

Earlier this year, Hardy and Orlando were honored with a regional award from the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals (NACDEP). For their work on the project, they won the Ohio NACDEP Educational Technology team award.

Implementing management practices at the marinas also presented an opportunity to conduct novel research, Hardy said. Through a literature review, the Sea Grant teams found gaps in nearshore research pertaining to green infrastructure and marinas. That’s where monitoring by Winston’s team came in.

“We wanted to understand: how much runoff are we reducing by installing these practices?” Winston said. “What sorts of water quality improvements are we getting, particularly at industrial marinas? How well does green infrastructure function?”

The Ohio State researchers monitored various runoff metrics, such as how much runoff flows in and out during rainfall events and how much runoff is retained within the bioretention systems. They used automatic samplers to measure average pollution at the marinas’ inlets and outlets, hoping to identify what the treatment system can capture. They also installed sensors within the filters to study what drives the treatment processes.

a group of people stand by a drain in a patch of grass

Dr. Ryan Winston, left, and fellow researchers from The Ohio State University’s Stormwater Management Program designed green infrastructure practices and conducted water quality monitoring at marinas in Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

“It was a multi-pronged effort that involved a lot of local collaboration to bring the datasets together,” Winston said, thanking Michigan Sea Grant, Wisconsin Sea Grant, and local watershed groups.

While the data isn’t final — the team hopes to have results this summer — Winston said they’re seeing substantial reductions in pollutants in the rain gardens, with upwards of 90% copper removal in those filters.

“That’s a really good thing to see because copper can have really significant impacts on aquatic environments,” he said. “If we can keep that copper in the filter rather than having it discharge out into the sound or river nearby, that’s a net benefit for the environment.”

Orlando said the data will also benefit education and outreach moving forward.

“We’ve not only got practices on the ground, but then we have the data around it,” Orlando said. “That to me was a huge driver in this project: getting tangible data and information about on-the-ground examples that I can use to encourage behavior change with our Clean Marinas work.”

Notably, the project’s academic work was submitted as a manuscript to the scientific journal Oceanography and recently invited to revise and resubmit for publication. Further publications are forthcoming from the stormwater monitoring performed by Winston’s group.

In the future, Hardy and Orlando plan to keep using the online toolkit and demonstration sites to educate people about stormwater and green infrastructure. Hardy recently shared his experience with the project during a Fulbright program in Chile. Meanwhile, Orlando said the Huron site has become a field trip stop for events in the area, including a green infrastructure bike tour, the annual symposium for the States Organization for Boating Access, and Sea Grant Week in 2022.

“We’ve had very different groups of practitioners come to that demonstration site, and to me that’s a site that’s there in perpetuity,” Orlando said.

Winston said he views the project as a springboard that can help people translate this engineering work to other coastal locations along the Great Lakes and find relatively easy ways to control stormwater runoff.

“I think it’s been a really successful project,” Winston said. “I think we’ve provided a really nice framework to do stormwater management in coastal areas of the Great Lakes.”

For more information about the project, contact Hardy at, Orlando at orlando.42@osu.ed, or Winston at

Ohio Sea Grant is supported by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) 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. Stone Laboratory is Ohio State’s island campus on Lake Erie and is the research, education, and outreach facility of Ohio Sea Grant and part of CFAES School of Environment and Natural Resources.

ARTICLE TITLE: Marinas Growing Green Infrastructure in the Great Lakes PUBLISHED: 12:00 pm, Tue March 26, 2024 | MODIFIED: 3:00 pm, Wed March 27, 2024
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