For Ken Gowan, the General Manager of Westport Marina in Sidney, it only makes sense to help maintain the marine environment.
“It’s the natural thing to do,” Gowan said.
Westport has recently been awarded their third certification for best environmental practices as part of the Clean Marine program. That’s a program initiated and administered by the Georgia Strait Alliance to safeguard the environmental integrity of the waters surrounding Vancouver Island.
“We make our living from people who love the water … we love the water … it’s only natural that we do everything that we can to preserve it. It’s a gift to us and it’s our responsibility to preserve it into the future,” Gowan said.
That’s why, when he heard about the program some 15 years ago, Gowan and his company were the first on Vancouver Island to jump on board with the program.
“I was contacted by the Georgia Strait Alliance who was trying to bring Clean Marine to the West Coast. The same program had operated in Ontario for a lot of years before that but they (the Georgia Strait Alliance) were only then starting to look at bringing it out here. We knew immediately that it was a good fit with our own approach to business and to the environment.”
Christianne Wilhelmson, the executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, said that the program is designed to be broad ranging in its approach.
“It’s really a combination of a lot of little things that have very real and potentially serious outcomes,” she said. “We have over half a million recreational boaters in our waters. Imagine that each of them has the potential of spilling a little fuel into the water every time they refuel … it all adds up.”
Wilhelmson said other practices, like using toxic paints on boat hulls to control barnacle growth can also be a threat to the environment.
“The paints work well for what they’re intended, but when boat maintenance happens and the hulls are scraped, that toxic paint can find its way back into the water where it continues to cause harm to the marine life.”
“It was easy to become a part of the program,” Gowan said. “We started by filling out a questionnaire that examined everything we did at the marina … right up to recycling waste in our offices and how we managed our flower beds and grounds,” he said.
“We learned that everything we do when we’re located by the water can ultimately have an impact on the water.
“We did an independent environmental audit first and then they bring in an external auditor to look at our results,” said Gowan. “If you pass, you get accredited, and then you have the chance to recertify every five years. This is our third recertification and we keep trying to improve.”
Gowan explained that Westport’s ‘three anchor’ rating (the best that an organization can do is five anchors) is something of which he’s quite proud.
“We’re going to keep getting better, though. One of the big things that we have planned is to replace our floats with floats that have encapsulated Styrofoam. Ours are not encapsulated right now and, over the years, tiny bits of Styrofoam break off and these granules enter the water system. We’re going to fix that in the near future … and then our ranking will go up even further.”
According to Gowan, the program extends beyond just addressing the marina’s own practices.
“Part of the program involves educating our customers and helping them to be environmentally responsible as well,” he said.
Gowan said the marina distributes educational material to raise their customers’ awareness and provides recycling facilities for everything from antifreeze to engine oil to oil filters.
“We help with the filtering and proper treatment of waste water before discharge … anything and everything we can do to help,” he said.
“Helping the environment also helps the businesses that are part of the program,” said Wilhelmson. “Boaters, like most people, want to do their bit to help the environment. That’s why many will intentionally choose a marina based upon the environmental leadership shown by that marina.”
She said that’s part of the reason for the program’s growth.
“We have 27 organizations as part of the program now,” said Wilhelmson. “And last year we saw a 23 per cent increase in people participating in Clean Marine. It’s been phenomenal.”
Wilhelmson’s organization is also active in trying to bring about changes in issues like those surrounding the derelict boats that frequently mar the waterways surrounding Vancouver Island.
“Yes, we’re also an advocacy organization, so when issues like derelict boats arise we tend to get involved and try to help.”
She said that her organization is looking for some better options for derelict boat owners and those affected by those discarded vessels.
“We’re always looking for better practices,” she said. “The federal government, who should be doing this, has totally abandoned its role as stewards of the environment … cut staffing across the board … so it’s up to people like us and those involved in Clean Marine to pick up the slack and do what has to be done. It’s a privilege and something we all care about.”
— by Tim Collins/News contributor