View from Boston Harbor aboard the Center for Governance and Sustainability boat trip (Sept. 22, 2012)


Boston’s Green Harbors Project (GHP) largely originated as a response to the designation of Boston Harbor as a No Discharge Area (NDA). NDAs prohibit the release of treated or untreated sewage from boats in the harbor. However, under the direction of Anamarija Frankić, NDAs have since grown to encompass a broader range incorporating education, research and outreach projects. The designation of the NDA within Boston Harbor on July 24, 2008 made it clear that there is a need for more comprehensive assessment and analysis of the local environmental as well as corresponding social and economic conditions. This designation also provided an ideal opportunity to develop guidelines for the first ‘green harbor’ in the US.

On October 20, 2008 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Boston and UMass Boston’s Division of Marine Operations, EEOS Department (presently the School for the Environment) and the Urban Harbor Institute initiated an NDA monitoring project. In accordance with this agreement:

  1. UMass Boston would operate a City of Boston pump-out (P/O) boat for a period of five years (*** it should be noted that the P/O boat is no longer a part of the GHP or UMass Boston as the five year period has passed***);
  2. The EEOS Department (currently the School for the Environment) would provide the expertise to support research, education, and outreach designed to help increase awareness about the harbor’s water quality and the NDA.

It is important to acknowledge that the P/O boat activity in Boston Harbor was “undertaken in connection with the settlement of an enforcement action, United States v. Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, taken on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.” 

Frankić embraced this opportunity to develop a broad GHP project, engaging over 45 students from her spring and summer semester classes as well as establishing a set of interdisciplinary research, education and outreach sites in Boston Harbor. The student and citizen research initiatives and projects included monitoring for marine invasive species, water quality/zooplankton sampling and analysis, and assessments at local saltmarshes/public beaches. In addition, some other student projects included the Green Roofs in Boston Metro Area (BMA), the Greening of the Cruise Lines in Boston Harbor and developing an Outdoor-Classroom at Mather Elementary School (the first public school in the USA).

One of the overall aims of the Green Harbors Project was to construct a detailed assessment and GIS analysis of the Boston Harbor recreational/commercial boating activities as well as P/O activities. The assessment on boating activities included: boat numbers, types and locations as well as their use of P/O facilities. Also included in the assessment was:

  1. The adequacy and identification of potential gaps in the exiting and planned P/O coverage/capacity in the Boston Harbor area;
  2. Public awareness and knowledge about P/O importance and the role of these activities in the improvement of coastal water quality;
  3. The negative impact of waste discharges from boats not engaging in P/O activities.

In order to meet our goal of integrating natural and socioeconomic indicators, it was important that we develop surveys, questionnaires, and other social science methods to begin to understand the feedback loops between human activities and the conditions of coastal ecosystems. Paying particular attention to culture and meaning, the evaluative strategies will employ languages, formats, and outreach programs appropriate to our expected audience. In some cases we included selected members of the research audience in the development of surveys or other research tools.

Few surveys and questionnaires (Institutional Review Board approved) had been developed for use with boaters and P/O activity (May 1 – October 15, 2009). The implementation of these surveys allowed us to collect data on a variety of subjects including: boating activities, types of marine sanitation devices (MSD) aboard vessels, methods boaters regularly employ to dispose of sewage, how well boaters are informed concerning availability of P/O facilities, how often they use these facilities as well as concerns related to their use, the best ways to promote P/O services, and how much boaters would be willing to pay for P/O services.

Based on these survey results and comprehensive environmental and socio-economic assessments, the GHP was able to make recommendations for best management practices concerning three key areas:

  1. Improvements in the availability and use of P/O services;
  2. Monitoring, evaluation, and enforcement of the NDA in Boston Harbor;
  3. Establishment of guidelines for a sustainable Green Boston Harbor.