By Mike Milne

The Clean Marine program, which encourages marinas to adopt environment-friendly practices and programs, may have some competition.

Developed by in the late 1990s by Boating Ontario, then called the Ontario Marine Operators Association, the program was one of the first in the world to help marinas take a proactive approach to reducing their environmental impact.

A program that evaluates and audits marinas’ operations, it looks into 200 areas ranging from low-energy lightbulb use to recycling and from fuel spill prevention to boater education.

Initially funded by government grants as well as marina operators themselves, the program grew in popularity to include 200 of the association’s 460 marinas. Eco-Rated marinas earn the right to fly a flag that identifies their status.

A great success and a credit to Boating Ontario and member marinas, the program spread to British Columbia. There, Boating BC operates a Clean Marine program in partnership with the Georgia Strait Alliance, with 18 certified marinas.

Marinas’ progress from clean to cleaner is signified by symbols ranging from one to five Green Leaf Anchors. Participating marinas can earn Gold, Bronze or Platinum status.

            No matter what level is achieved, says Boating Ontario, “a marina’s participation and rating demonstrates their commitment to the protection of our waterways and marine life.”

As well as closely auditing marinas, Clean Marine staff or contractors help marinas find ways to deal with problems and improve their status. In recent years, though, the program has lost much of its government funding, leaving more of the costs on the shoulders of marinas themselves.

The time between mandatory audits for re-certification has been stretched from three to four years. Boating Ontario makes no secret of the fact that new funding is needed.

The competition – if organizations in such an altruistic field can be seen to compete – comes from the Blue Flag program. It’s a global environmental program initially aimed at certifying freshwater and ocean beaches. Its goal it to challenge “local authorities and beach operators to achieve high standards in water quality, environmental management, environmental education and safety.”

Globally, it’s operated by the non-profit Foundation for Environmental Education. Blue Flags fly over 4,000 beaches and marinas in 49 countries. The Canadian program is operated by Environmental Defence, an environmental charity.

So far, 25 Canadian beaches and six marinas are certified, including the Halifax Waterfront marina, three facilities on Lake Huron, and one each on Lakes Simcoe and Ontario. Most are operated by municipalities. All must meet a wide range of environmental criteria and pay an annual fee before being awarded a Blue Flag.

The most recent to qualify is La Salle Park Marina in Burlington, Ont., operated by a non-profit volunteer-based association. The marina is an Eco-Rated Boating Ontario member and was the first in Ontario to achieve five Green Leaf Anchor status.

For his part, manager Colin McKinnon sees no conflict in the marina’s adoption of the Blue Flag designation and says the move has generated “a lot of favorable publicity.”

After all, he adds, “Who’s not for the environment?”