Spring 2006

A safe harbor for all. The South Bay Marina, located at the mouth of the Fox River in Green Bay, provides shelter for fish, plants, and wildlife — in addition to boaters.

UW Sea Grant Outreach

Sheltering Boats — and Birds, Fish and Frogs

Marinas offer shelter and safety to boaters, but constructing them often means losing wildlife habitat. Natural areas that provide fish and wildlife with shelter and food can be destroyed when shorelines are encased in rip rap, shallow areas are dredged, and trees are chopped down.

But building a marina can actually offer opportunities to create habitat, as UW Sea Grant Habitat Restoration Specialist Victoria Harris helped demonstrate with the South Bay Marina. Located immediately east of the mouth of the Fox River in Green Bay, the new marina features wetlands, natural beaches, rock reefs and ideal fish spawning grounds.

Harris’ role in developing the marina was pivotal, according to Chet MacDonald, co-owner of the McDonald Lumber Company, which owns the property and built the marina.

“Vicky really brought the ideas to us,” he said. “She makes a good case for doing these things.”

Harris’ involvement began in the late 1990s, when she worked for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). She coordinated development of the Green Bay/Fox River Remedial Action Plan (RAP) and served on the RAP’s Biota and Habitat Work Group, which was charged with identifying opportunities to preserve and restore wildlife habitat in the area.

When McDonald Lumber applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Corps sought input from the Biota and Habitat Work Group, which also includes representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, UW Sea Grant and UW–Green Bay. The group visited the proposed site and offered to work with McDonald Lumber to identify wildlife-friendly features that could be incorporated into the marina design.

The company readily embraced the idea, according to McDonald.

“I had been interested in this sort of thing for a long time,” he said. “This was an opportunity to do something about it.”

McDonald Lumber agreed to work with the group in designing and constructing habitat features for the marina.

Shortly before accepting her current position with UW Sea Grant in 1999, Harris began researching habitat-friendly construction. She visited parks and marinas in Toronto, Hamilton, and Thunder Bay, Ont., where similar efforts had been made. She talked with project managers, collected detailed plans and studied reports on the sites. Based on this information, Harris sketched preliminary designs for the marina. She continued working with the habitat group, McDonald Lumber, and their consultant for several years as plans, designs, cost-estimates and, finally, construction were completed. She also helped raise money for the project by writing a successful proposal for a habitat enhancement grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office.

The marina was finished in the spring of 2003, and it features a variety of habitat. Two narrow spits of rock “headlands” jut out from the marina, sheltering part of the shoreline from large waves and allowing sediment to collect and aquatic plants to grow. Such wetlands are nurseries for many species of fish, amphibians and birds. Deposits of cobble, gravel and sand in these sheltered waters make natural-looking beaches, which provide resting and foraging places for waterfowl and shorebirds. Submerged “spawning stones,” each two to five inches in diameter, were placed along the break wall to provide optimal spawning beds for walleye and bass. Nooks and crannies between the stones are deep enough to shelter eggs from wave action, yet shallow enough to allow well-oxygenated water to flow over the eggs. A wooded area once designated for a parking lot was left standing, providing resting places and foraging bases for migrating songbirds, raptors and roosting herons.

The South Bay Marina is now open and welcomes large power boats and sailboats at competitive rates. No charge for birds, fish and frogs.

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

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