Beauty is much more than just skin deep.

Case in point: Southport Marina, whose extreme makeover earned a Clean Marina flag and accolades from state officials for going the extra mile to protect and preserve water quality surrounding its Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway location.

Marina manager Hank Whitley, who has helped oversee the “work-in-progress” from its earliest stages, explains that the transformation was set in motion in 2006 with a vision to revamp the deteriorating 1960-era, state-owned facility into a preferred destination for recreational boaters and area residents alike.

That’s when Southport Marina Inc. and its parent company, Preston Development Company of Cary, N.C., entered into a long-term lease agreement with the N.C. State Ports Authority to design, finance, engineer and implement the multi-phased modernization of the marina and boat maintenance operation to meet — or exceed — tough environmental criteria.

Since then, Whitley says, just about every square foot of the 45.6-acre site at the edge of Southport’s historic district has been refurbished with that goal in mind. And hoisting the Clean Marina flag each day signals that the “new and improved” Southport Marina has management practices in place to alleviate potential pollution and safeguard precious coastal resources.

Dockside, important pollution prevention features include two marine sewage pump-out stations and new fuel dispensers for gasoline and diesel that are fitted with emergency shutoffs.

Gregory Poole Marine operates the boat maintenance facility, where a unique “closed loop” pressure wash system is in place. The system captures all pressure washed run-off, filters out the contaminants and stores the filtered water for other uses. A licensed waste management company collects all hazardous products for disposal.

A spill-prevention plan is in place and the staff is well trained to respond to emergency spills in any part of the marina. Oil booms and pads are kept at the upland, above-ground fuel tanks, in the marina’s work boat, at the fuel dock and near the dry storage racks. Additionally, the concrete pad where tankers refuel is designed to contain any spill.


“The Clean Marina Program is a voluntary program designed to show marina operators ways to address pollution from marina and boating activities,” explains Pat Durrett, program coordinator for the N.C. Division of Coastal Management (DCM).

“Our coastal counties depend on clean water for their livelihoods. Marinas that volunteer to become a North Carolina Clean Marina show the public and boaters that they are committed to promoting environmental stewardship by following practices that prevent pollution from entering our coastal waterways,” she says.

A guidebook provides a checklist of best management practices for marina managers.

“After a request is received, we make a site visit to confirm that the requirements are met. Recertification is required every two years,” Durrett says.

To date, 17 coastal marinas fly the Clean Marina flag. Durrett plans to visit as many marinas as possible in the coming months to encourage participation. She also plans to hold seminars for marina operators and would like “to gain additional incentives for these environmental stewards.”

Now, DCM offers technical assistance and administers grants to help cover the cost of installing marine sewage pump-out stations. “Marina operators may earn 75 percent of the cost, up to $15,000,” says Mike Lopazanski, DCM coastal policy analyst.

“More than 360,000 boaters use North Carolina waterways. The more boaters, the greater the impacts associated with boating — from marine sewage discharges to marine debris,” Lopazanski points out. “The Clean Marina Program, therefore, will play an increasingly important role in protecting water quality in coastal communities.”

North Carolina Sea Grant has played a major supporting role from the start, says Gloria Putnam, Sea Grant’s water quality planning specialist.

Sea Grant’s Barbara Doll helped develop the best management practices incorporated in the program’s guidebook.

Putnam served on the Clean Marina advisory board when she worked with the N.C. Division of Water Quality’s Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Program.

“The Clean Marina Program is critical because marinas represent an intensive use of land directly on the water. Activities, such as fueling, disposal of marine sewage, cleaning and maintenance of boats add up to potential sources of pollution,” Putnam says. “The program also is an important educational opportunity to promote best management practices for marina operators and boaters alike.”


“From the onset, it was clear that most of the old marina would have to go. It was not environmentally sustainable and structures were unstable,” Whitley says of the Southport site. “Starting from scratch is challenging, but it also presents opportunities to ‘go green’ in many aspects of rebuilding.”

For openers, the concrete piers, ramps, pads and dilapidated storage buildings were removed, cleaned of hazardous materials, and cut to size for two artificial reef sites.

“Our vessel carried seven loads from Southport Marina to Yaupon Reef in late 2006,” says Jim Francesconi, director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries Artificial Reef Program.

Yaupon Reef, AR 425, is just a couple of miles off Oak Island near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. A popular fishing spot for local fishing tournaments, it is the site of the annual U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament that Southport Marina hosts.

“You can judge the productivity of an artificial reef by counting the number of fishing boats. As many as 84 boats have been reported to be at this site on a recent Fourth of July,” Francesconi says.

A few months later, Southport Marina and Francesconi were coordinating another deployment of repurposed material. This time, Southport Marina would truck tons of prepared debris to Morehead City, load it on the DMF vessel, and place it on the J. Paul Tyndall Reef, AR-340, off Emerald Isle.

“Just seven weeks after the material was placed there, divers saw 16 legal-sized groupers, a school of 200 amberjacks and a napping turtle. To say it is functioning well is an understatement,” Francesconi says.

“The Southport Marina folks have been great partners. I call this project a triple win – they kept the debris out of a landfill; they provided great habitat for sea life; and their ‘gift’ continues to bring additional recreational fishing dollars to local communities.”


“Initially, stormwater management was one of our top concerns since, at the time, much of the runoff drained directly into the boat basin,” Whitley recalls. “With assistance from environmental engineers, we developed a stormwater runoff prevention plan, which includes site management practices using Clean Marina standards as a template.”

Now, by design, all stormwater is captured on the property. Surfaces slope away from the waterway so that heavy rains flow into attractively landscaped areas, retention ponds and channels that allow the water to seep slowly into the water table.

During the renovation, Mother Nature needed a hand in preserving the live oak trees that lined the marina’s waterfront, Whitley says. David Nash, then a North Carolina Cooperative Extension specialist, came to the rescue with an aggressive pruning and treatment plan for the ailing trees. Today the healthy live oak trees shade a dozen picnic tables and benches for boaters and local residents to enjoy for casual picnics or formal events such as weddings. In July 2010, Southport Marina dedicated the live oak park in memory of Nash, who died in March 2010.


“The Intracoastal Waterway is an ‘interstate’ for transient boaters migrating north to keep cool in the summer and south for a warm nesting place in the winter. En route they are looking for environmentally friendly marinas in quaint coastal communities to stay,” says Jack Thigpen, North Carolina Sea Grant’s extension director.

“A Clean Marina could be a shot in the arm for some small communities that rely on water-related activities. In the long run, it can make economic sense to attract a share of the transient luxury boat trade by investing in pump-out stations, improving fueling practices and preventing runoff from boat repairs from entering the waterways,” Thigpen says.

First impressions are key, agrees Brian Efland, Sea Grant marine conservation and enterprise development specialist. “Cruising publications rate marinas. So a Clean Marina designation sets a level of expectation — that there will be a pump-out station, that surroundings will be clean and that people there care about the environment.”

Southport Marina is taking extra steps to link the marina and the community, Efland adds. Two public boat launch ramps provide important waterway access for local ‘day’ boaters who benefit from dedicated parking area for vehicles and trailers and access to clean restrooms.

The marina’s online newsletter also draws boaters into community events such as the Southport spectacular Fourth of July celebration or weeklong Christmas by the Sea festivities. The 2010 U.S. Open King Mackeral Tournament attracted 450 entries.

“It’s a synergistic relationship,” Efland says.

The marina initially links boaters to the community. In turn, the boaters help stimulate local economies by frequenting restaurants, retail shops and bed and breakfasts, Efland adds, noting that a strong sense of community may be why satisfied boaters return again and again to a particular marina.

Some boaters, like Edgar and Coleen Anderson and Sam and Karen Johnson, even decide to become part of the community. Both couples recently bought homes within walking distance of the Southport Marina where they maintain boatslips.

“The most important part of a Clean Marina is that you get to take for granted that they will do all the work to make your experience top notch,” says Edgar Anderson aboard his cruiser motor yacht, All Shook Up II.

He discovered the Southport Marina during its reconstruction period. “It was still old and torn up, but I liked the idea that they were going the extra mile to do things right — from recycling the old dock and building material to the boatyard maintenance technologies.”

Anderson, who has been boating since childhood on freshwater lakes in Virginia, says he “went coastal” about 12 years ago. He gradually worked up to what he calls his “floating condo” and enjoys cruising south to Charleston and West Palm Beach or north to Beaufort and New Bern.

Though their home is a few blocks away, the Andersons often stay on board during the summer months to enjoy the lively marina social life. “What’s not to like? We have all the comforts of home right here — city water, electricity, cable, wifi, clean showers and great neighbors. Each dock is its own neighborhood,” Anderson adds.

Both couples have seen their share of unsightly marinas in the course of cruising up and down the East Coast. In recent years, as tourism became a growth industry for many coastal communities, they say marinas have been “sprucing up” to attract the boating trade.

The Johnsons moved to Southport a year ago from the Chesapeake Bay area, but their introduction to Southport came 25 years earlier.

“My sailboat broke down. I looked at a map and saw I was close to Southport and knew I could fly home from nearby Wilmington,” Sam Johnson recalls. “That was my first introduction to Southport hospitality. After that, whenever I had to be in Wilmington for business, I would rent a car and drive to Southport and stay at the old El Capitan motor lodge.”

When an opportunity arose a year ago, the couple bought a home two blocks from their sailboat, Naos.

“We love it,” Karen Johnson says. “Summer is paradise here. We sit on the deck and watch the sunset over the marsh — our backyard. It transforms you.”

The Johnsons place a high value on coastal resources. Before their move to Southport, they devoted volunteer time to environmental educational programs on the Chesapeake Bay where they lived and boated.

Southport Marina’s Clean Marina flag was definitely a calling card. “After all, this is our home, and we want to be associated with a business that cares as much for the environment as we do,” Karen Johnson says.

The North Carolina Clean Marina program is a partnership of the N.C. Boating Industry Services, the N.C. Marine Trade Association, the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program, North Carolina Sea Grant, the U.S. Power Squadron, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and N.C. Big Sweep.

To learn more about the program, contact Pat Durrett at the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, 252-808-2808, or


• Bayliss Boatyard Inc., Wanchese, N.C. Phone: 252-473-9797
• Cape Fear Marina/Bennett Bros. Yachts, Wilmington, N.C. Phone: 910-772-9277
• Casper’s Marina, Swansboro, N.C. Phone: 910-326-4462
• Cypress Landing Marina, Chocowinity, N.C. Phone: 252-975-3955
• Deaton Yacht Service and Sales, Oriental, N.C. Marina Phone: 252-249-1180
• Duke University Marine Laboratory (Research Facility), Beaufort, N.C. Phone: 252-504-7503
• Harbour Village Marina, Hampstead, N.C. Phone: 910-270-4017
• Joyner Marina, Carolina Beach, N.C. Phone: 910-458-5053
• Manteo Waterfront Marina, Manteo, N.C. Phone: 252-473-3320
• Masonboro Yacht Club & Marina, Wilmington, N.C. Phone: 910-270-4017
• Matthews Point Marina Havelock, N.C. Marina Phone: 252-444-1805
• New Bern Grand Marina, New Bern, N.C. Phone: 252-638-3585
• NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries & Habitat Research (Research Facility), Beaufort, N.C. Phone: 252-728-3595
• Northwest Creek Marina, New Bern, N.C. Phone: 252-638-4133
• Radio Island Marina Club, Beaufort, N.C. Phone: 252-726-3773
• River Dunes, Oriental, N.C. Phone: 252-249-4908
• Seapath Yacht Club, Wrightsville Beach, N.C. Phone: 910-256-3747
• Town Creek Marina, Beaufort, N.C. Phone: 252-728-6111 or 877-347-4869

This article was published in the Winter 2011 issue of Coastwatch.

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