New Technology to Increase Marina Sustainability

19 October 2020 By Sara Ventiera
Porto Montenegro
Porto Montenegro
Courtesy of Porto Montenegro

Sara Ventiera is a contributing writer and former stewardess who covers food, travel, and other topics. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, Food & Wine, NPR, Eating Well, and BBC Travel.

Solar shingles and residential wind-power are now becoming increasingly common in homes. Electric vehicles and bikes are no longer a rare sight. Solar-powered yachts even exist nowadays. But what about the places where yachts are kept? In the not-too-distant past it was nearly impossible to find a recycling bin on a dock, never mind cutting-edge sustainable technology.

Fortunately, just as high-end resorts have moved toward amping up their green cred, a slight shift in marina sustainability has been under way for the past few years. Marina designers are increasingly placing a greater focus on sustainability in their master plans with environmentally friendly and socially conscious projects that incorporate larger trends gaining steam in the luxury travel industry.

Obviously, the natural scenery is a big part of the draw when it comes to yachting. Most yacht owners and guests envision themselves surrounded by pristine waters off the coast of some beautiful shoreline whether it’s a totally isolated remote island or right next to a bustling city. Savvy marina operators and developers are starting to take stewardship of their surrounding waters and lands seriously.

Porto Montenegro and its pristine surroundings.
Courtesy of Porto Montenegro

Simple Solutions to Increase Eco Efforts

Over the past few years, Seabins have been catching on like wildfire in marinas across the globe with an especially huge presence in Europe. Water lovers Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski came up with the idea of creating floating trash cans, “seabins,” that would collect garbage, oil, fuel, and detergents from the ocean back in 2014. Two years later, the pair had raised US$276,000 in a viral campaign, launching their Seabin Project with pilot partner Marina La Grande Motte in France in March 2016.

Within a year, Seabins — which pump 25 liters of surface water per hour through its catch bag, filtering up to 1.5 kilograms of floating debris per day, including oil and harmful microplastics as small as two millimeters in size — had been installed in four additional marinas in the Mediterranean.

Today, the 860 Seabins around the world have captured 3,612.8 kilograms of pollution from the water per day, adding up to a whopping 1,161,043 kilograms and counting. “While the Seabin has been incredibly effective in removing any floating rubbish, one of the most important aspects of this project is increasing awareness,” says Roddy Blair, marina manager at Porto Montenegro, one of the early adopters of the green technology.

Seabin in a marina
Courtesy of Seabin

That increased attention towards pollution has been paired with a number of environmentally friendly solutions, helping Porto Montenegro to become the first marina in the world to win a Platinum Award from The Yacht Harbour Association and the Marina Industries Association. Its facilities boast custom-built waste disposal units for separated waste, an on-site paper press to compact paper and cardboard for efficient transportation to recycling plants, hazardous waste collection, and gray- and blackwater pump-out systems that are free of charge on all berths over 20 meters.

To prevent excess waste in the first place, rather than going through cases of plastic water bottles, the marina buys water in huge containers, filling up reusable glass bottles branded with Porto Montenegro logos. “It looks much better than plastic and, most importantly, does no harm to nature,” adds Blair.

Other facilities, such as Marina Port de Mallorca, have taken similar debris-saving measures with reusable bottles for workers (as well as Seabins).

Marina Port Mallorca
Courtesy of Marina Port Mallorca

The Natural Solution

Although plastic is a huge issue for marine environments, it’s far from the only hazardous material that harms sea life and water quality. The coastal waters near cities are contaminated with a vast range of pollutants from nitrogen-heavy fertilizers and bacteria-laden pet and livestock waste that runs off during heavy storms to sewage overflows, chemical cleaning products, and toxic boat bottom paints.

Smart municipalities and marinas have been turning to nature to clean up the mess. In New York City, the Billion Oyster Project has been using oysters, which can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, to purify New York Harbor — and create natural breakwaters to protect against storm surges like the powerful waves that walloped the city during Hurricane Sandy — of pollutants like nitrogen (especially common in fertilizer, manure, and the combustion of fossil fuels), which can trigger algal blooms that deplete the water of oxygen and create “dead zones.”

That urban project is one of the best-known water restoration undertakings in the United States, at least, with its ambitious mission to restore one billion bivalves to the harbor in the next five years. However, marinas are implementing their own natural filtration systems, too.

Marina designers are increasingly placing a greater focus on sustainability in their master plans with environmentally friendly and socially conscious projects that incorporate larger trends gaining steam in the luxury travel industry.

In Turkey, Çeşme Marina introduced the Mussel Project with a similar goal. A single mussel can filter up to 150 liters of water per day depending on environmental conditions, so the marina installed sacks of native bivalves in strategic locations around the docks to help filter out heavy metals from the water and increase sea life.

Marina employees recently placed three coral nests in the harbor to help the corals and sponges grow in a controlled environment until they are big and healthy enough to move to the main diving centers in Çeşme in cooperation with Derin Doğa Diving Centre. And Çeşme Marina is striving to increase the population of squid in Turkey with the Squid Project. The goal is to deliver another 1.5 million squids to the Izmir and Çeşme area over the next year.

Why squid? They are a keystone species in the marine food web providing nourishment for larger predators like sharks, seals, whales, dolphins, seabirds, deep-sea fish, and more. A sperm whale can eat 700 to 800 squid in a single day and a Risso’s dolphin that was found tangled up in a net in the Mediterranean was discovered to have angel clubhook squid, umbrella squid, reverse jewel squid, and European flying squid leftovers in its remains, all of which were easily identifiable from their indigestible beaks.

So, the more squid, the better for the entire ecosystem. The cephalopods are very sensitive to water quality, avoiding polluted waters to congregate in cleaner areas, so they are a good indicator of water quality, too.

Cesme Marina places squid nests
Courtesy of Cesme Marina

How Some Marinas Are Preserving Nature

“It is vital that a marina development rejuvenates, protects, and enhances the existing ecosystem,” says Andrew Garland, business development manager at Camper & Nicholsons Marinas Limited. In the past, in marinas like Ocean Reef Club in the Florida Keys, developers blasted through corals, mangroves, and other intertidal wetland habitats to dredge out channels and make room for docks. Current environmental policies make those sorts of practices much harder these days — for good reason.

A growing number of marina operators are seeking not only to preserve nature reserves in intertidal and riparian areas but also improve upon existing habitat with mangrove replacement policies, says Garland. “This is necessary not only to preserve a delicate ecosystem and environment, but also to avoid controversy and enable the project to obtain government and stakeholder support in line with national environmental, coastal, and wetlands policy,” he says.

Incorporating these “soft solutions” into marina designs has a number of benefits. Native plants create wildlife habitat for birds and fish, require no fertilization or irrigation — which can run off and pollute the water — and, in many cases, mangroves and other shorelines can actually improve the water quality by filtering out pollution and contaminants. “They have a net positive ecological value,” says Coastal Engineer Esteban Biondi, associate principal Applied Technology and Management.

But one of the greatest advantages of these natural shorelines is their ability to protect from rising sea levels and the stronger storm systems forming as a result of climate change. Intertidal plantings require more space than a vertical bulkhead with high dry land; however, that gradual transition to the shore offers better protection from storm surges for a fraction of the cost. “That sloped transition to higher ground is easier to adapt to sea level rise: there’s nothing that prevents you from having a rock embankment and intertidal plantings,” says Biondi. “It’s not so straightforward to add elevation to a vertical wall.”

Cesme Marina places new squid nests
Courtesy of Cesme Marina

Battling Climate Change

Climate change can be considered a controversial topic in the yachting industry. Several marina operators were too afraid to weigh in on the topic for fear of backlash; however, rising sea levels and stronger storm surges are being considered in marina design regardless of whether or not certain industry insiders want to talk about it. “We’re doing a lot of work on sea-level rise adaptation more for urban waterfronts and resorts,” says Biondi. “Hurricane wave impacts are going to get worse even if a storm is the same because sea level is higher…. Institutional investors are now looking at climate change before they put money into a project.”

Although the engineers designing new marinas are starting to plan on how to adapt to higher water levels in the future, many marinas have been trying to figure out how to lighten their carbon footprint through existing technology.

At Porto Montenegro, solar panels have been attached to service blocks to heat the water. To limit fossil fuels, the staff uses electric vehicles to move visitors and freight around the marina. “Little details but step by step, they build up a big picture,” says Blair.

Marina Port de Mallorca has implemented similar carbon-saving strategies, installing low-consumption LED lighting, solar water heaters, automatic light sensors, as well as automatic detection sensor hand dryers and taps. To help alleviate air pollution on the island, the marina bought electric bicycles for customers to use around town. And they have partnered with a citizen science project to measure the rise in sea level. The University of the Balearic Islands and Spanish Institute of Oceanography along with local schools will be installing devices in the marina to measure sea level in the Balearic Islands to help draw conclusions and figure out the best way to move forward. “Although now the marinas are not affected by the rise in sea level, we hope that the situation reverses and does not go further,” says Patrick Reynés, CEO IPM Group.

Preventing and responding to climate change is a complicated task that goes off in varying directions. One aspect that should not be overlooked in environmental stewardship is social sustainability, the process of creating places that promote health and wellbeing in a community through examining the needs of locals in the places they live and work.

Marina Port de Mallorca encourages recycling
Courtesy of Marina Port de Mallorca

A Cultural Experience

There are gorgeous waterfront areas all throughout the world. So what is the point of bringing a yacht halfway around the globe without experiencing the local culture?

That’s (partly) why Biondi would like to see more socially sustainable marina designs that follow in the vein of luxury eco-lodges, where local people and cultural traditions help to create unforgettable experiences for guests — and improve business.

Partly fueled by respect for local tradition and partly environmental, one of the most successful legacy projects at Çeşme Marina in Turkey is the planting of 75 olive trees around the harbor. Working with local suppliers, the marina staff sourced olive trees, which date back more than 200 years in the area, using the fruit to produce sustainable, organic olive oil. The native trees need no pesticides or fertilizers and help to naturally filter the groundwater runoff that would otherwise head straight into the ocean.

There are gorgeous waterfront areas all throughout the world. So what is the point of bringing a yacht halfway around the globe without experiencing the local culture?

In Saudi Arabia, the Red Sea Project aims to offer wealthy guests a chance to experience the vibrant culture, culinary customs, and artisanal traditions as a core part of its mission. Although the destination is far from being completed, developers have discussed bringing local fishermen into the fold to take guests around the islands or to cook aboard old-fashioned boats once it’s up and running.

According to Biondi, Puerto Los Cabos in Baja California Sur, Mexico, has the most significant inclusion of local community traditions in Latin America, if not the world. Developed right next to the village of La Playita, where local fishermen used to launch their pangas (small boats) from the beach, the 200-slip marina dedicated a basin for panga operations. The fishermen not only have a safe place to dock their vessels, but it has also helped them boost activity and sales and has become a beloved part of the visitor experience of San Jose del Cabo. “Creating authentic corners in a marina creates destination appeal and authenticity of culture: local people are a significant aspect of that,” says Biondi. “Twenty years ago, no one was talking about that. Now everyone is talking about guests’ experiences.”

This article originally ran in the October 2020 issue of Dockwalk.


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