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Marinas can help clean the bay

Environmental PollutionWetlandsInner HarborEnergy ResourcesWaterfront Partnership of Baltimore Inc.

In October, Waterfront Partnership's Healthy Harbor Initiative released the State of Baltimore's Harbor Report, an assessment of the current health of Baltimore's Inner Harbor and its surrounding tributaries. According to the study, the water quality received an overall poor score.

Anyone walking near the Inner Harbor can see from the bulkhead that the water is littered with trash, debris and pollutants, unfortunately making it unsafe for swimming and fishing. An unsettling contributor to this problem is the fact that of Maryland's 600 marinas, only 25 percent are currently designated as a Maryland Clean Marina by the Department of Natural Resources.

The Maryland Clean Marina Initiative is an effort to protect one of the state's greatest assets — our waterways. It is an evolving program, with new components often being added such as the Maryland Clean Marina Award that was started in 2011. Other facets of the program include a pollution prevention guidebook for boating facilities, outreach activities that promote clean and green boating practices and the recognition of marinas and boatyards for their environmental responsibility through the Maryland Clean Marina Certification Program.

As a marina operator, I know what it would mean for Baltimore and the state if more of Maryland's 600 marinas met the Clean Marina Initiative's standards for pollution prevention. It would be great for business if patrons at waterfront restaurants or passengers on a dinner cruise could enjoy a meal without spotting trash floating by in murky waters. More designated Clean Marina facilities would certainly set us on a brighter path for making Baltimore's Inner Harbor a cleaner, more beautiful attraction.

In order to receive this prestigious status, marinas must take the necessary steps to keep waterways free of harmful chemicals, excess nutrients and debris. These pollution prevention practices can be associated with vessel maintenance and repair, petroleum storage and transfer, sewage disposal, hazardous wastes, storm water runoff and facilities management. All of these components can have a huge impact on water quality.

At Certified Clean Marinas, dockhands are taking on the daunting and frustrating task of removing debris and trash from the water. This can be a never-ending job, especially after a storm, but it is a necessary expense of running a clean marina. Investing in water filtration and recycling systems is also important, particularly for water collected from boat power-washing so that it does not stream directly back into the bay. Clean marinas also have emergency response plans in place for fuel spills or hurricanes, as well as a group of well-trained employees.

Once a marina has established a culture of green practices, even if it is as simple as posting signage to encourage recycling bottles and cans, boaters are likely to embrace that culture. Using state of the art technology, marinas can also install pump outs at every slip, encouraging boaters to properly remove wastewater from their vessels and keep it out of our waters. Marinas must lead by example. If the marina is clean, boaters will be clean.

In addition to more marinas becoming Clean Marina certified, there are other promising projects that can help clean our waterways. Baltimore Marine Centers and several partners have proposed a first-of-its-kind floating wetlands project to be installed at Harborview Marina. The proposed floating wetlands have the ability to transform the stark, structured Baltimore Harbor shoreline into a beneficial ecosystem, typically provided by tidal wetlands in a natural environment.

The many environmental benefits of floating wetlands include improving water quality and clarity, removing excess nutrients from the water, reducing the incidence or severity of low dissolved oxygen events, and providing a habitat for a variety of beneficial plants and animals. Each acre of floating wetland is manufactured from 500,000 recycled plastic bottles.

There are many ways we can improve the quality of our Maryland waterways, and these are just a few. We applaud the Department of Natural Resources for its efforts to improve the health of our harbor and hope more marinas in Maryland can share this vision.

Dan Naor is chief operating officer of Baltimore Marine Centers, the operator of five marinas located in and around Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

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