Clean Marina Program

cleanmarinaprogram_105_0581-300x225.jpgThe Clean Marina Program is a voluntary, incentive-based, and industry-run program which encourages marina operators to educate recreational boaters on strategies and methods to protect marina water quality by engaging in “best management practices” (BMPs).  These BMPs are tools marina operators, local governments, and recreational boaters may use to prevent water pollution.  Examples of BMPs include having: a current list of important shutoff valves, emergency phone numbers, fire extinguishers, and keeping areas free of oil and debris.

In exchange for agreeing to follow a list of BMPs and the submission of a $300 inspection fee, the Marina Recreation Association – the industry group who operates the voluntary Clean Marina Program – sends participating marinas a dolphin flag and pennant, a designation certificate, and a copyrighted logo to be used on marketing materials.  Marinas are encouraged to perform outreach activities to inform boaters on BMPs to prevent pollution.

What type of pollution exists is marinas?

  • Metals - Metal and metal compounds are frequently found in marina water samples and generally include: copper, lead, arsenic, zinc, and tin.  These metals are important components in gasoline/diesel, anti-fouling bottom paint, zincs, and wood preservatives.  These hazardous substances are introduced to the water column from fueling, poor dock and on-board storage practices, painting, uncontrolled pressure washing, bottom scraping, and through their intended operation (zincs and anti-fouling bottom paint).  Metals are dangerous because they collect on the marina floor in deposits which harm bottom-dwelling species and in the water column which harms a wider diversity of marine species.  Contact with metals can be toxic to marine organisms resulting in death, or chronic impairments such as deformity, reduced fertility, and reduced diversity.

  • Bacteria – Marinas with high vessel density and poor flushing can exhibit high concentrations of harmful fecal coliform bacteria.  This bacteria is known to cause disease resulting in mild to serious illness, including death,  from either direct water contact or consuming shellfish from water with high bacteria levels.  High bacteria levels have previously resulted in marina beach closures and bans on shell-fishing in marinas.

  • Oils - Oils can be discharged into marina water via fueling stations, bilges, or poor dock and vessel oil handling practices.  Once discharged, oils result in high mortality rates for those species who come into contact with the spill.  Petroleum is hazardous to the immune systems of fish and marine organisms and is known as a marine carcinogen.  Waterfowl who come into contact with oil have difficulty preening; resulting in a decreased ability to fly or remain warm.

  • Low Dissolved Oxygen – Improper discharges of untreated sewage from boat holding tanks and the disposal of fish waste from commercial and recreational fishing into the water results in increased oxygen demand to cause these contaminants to decompose.  This increased oxygen demand results in a reduction of dissolved oxygen available in the water column.  Marine species, including fish and other organisms, need dissolved oxygen to survive and a reduction in the availability of dissolved oxygen may cause these species to suffocate and die.

  • Habitat Loss - The improper operation of boats in shallow areas may result in “prop wash” which dredges the marina floor suspending sediment into the water column.  Sediment in the water column reduces its clarity and operates to prevent sunlight from reaching the depth it naturally would without the suspended sediment.  Resuspending sediment may also reintroduce toxins into the water column as well as cover shellfish beds and native grasses once the sediment falls back to the marina floor. Once disturbed and covered with sediment many sensitive native grass communities, which act as an underwater forest habitat to marine organisms and fish, are quickly killed.

  • Reduced Water Flushing - Enclosed marinas can prevent the flushing and movement of water resulting in low dissolved oxygen levels and increased levels of contaminants and toxins.  The increased water pollution and low dissolved oxygen levels contribute to an unhealthy environment for fish and marine vegetation.

  • Shoaling and Shoreline erosion - Increased boating in coastal areas may increase wave action causing the movement of sediment.  This sediment transfer may result in erosion of shorelines and increased sediment in the water column.  Increased sediment in the water column is known to harm marine species and vegetation, such as eel grass in the Upper Newport Bay.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Ocean & Coastal Resource Management – “Stressors from Marina and Boating Activities.”

Is California’s program effective?

Since its inception, the California Clean Marine Program has yet to include all of the available marinas statewide and no improvement to marina water quality has been observed.

How do other states protect their water quality in marinas?

Stronger Regulation

Marinas that are “primarily engaged” in renting slips, storing boats, and performing services generally associated with marine services, including boat cleaning and incidental repairs, are required to comply with a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit in the State of Ohio.  This permit covers marinas and ensures through regulations that water quality is a priority for marina operators.  If you are interested in Ohio’s BMP guidebook for marina’s look here.

Public Control

Some states, including Maryland, operate their Clean Marina Program under the auspices of their Department of Natural Resources.   Public sponsorship allows for unbiased supervision and enforcement as well as an easily accessible and modern website. Maryland’s website provides a clear description of the initiative, resources for both marina operators and boat owners, along with a power point presentation for boating instructors on the importance of clean boating.  More efficient and effective websites provide boaters with the information they need to chose a marina that reflects their values.

What is Coastkeeper doing to protect marina water quality?

Coastkeeper strongly supports the adoption of a mandatory program to improve marina water quality rather than the continuation of a voluntary industry-run compliance regime which has failed to improve marina water quality since its inception.

cleanmarinaprogram_Stormtrash1-300x203.jpgIn response to a lack of water quality improvement, the State Water Board had been developing a Coastal Marina General Permit to remedy concentrated water pollution frequently found in marinas.  As the General Permit neared completion it was withdrawn and attention was focused on modifying the industry-based Clean Marina Program.  On June 1, 2010, at a Newport Beach Networking Meeting, the general chairman of the California Clean Marina Program updated marina operators, recreational boaters, and the marine industry that the permit had been “put on a shelf” and “as an industry we pulled together to make this happen.”  Coastkeeper is disappointed that the General Permit appears to have stalled.

Please read our comment letter to the State Water Board discussing our opinion on the Clean Marina Program here and follow our efforts associated with the Copper Reduction Project here.