The Green Harbors Project For Coastal Ecosystem Stewardship

Our goal is to establish green urban harbors—harbors that live within ecological and human limits. The GHP supports coastal ecosystem stewardship through effective education, outreach, research, and monitoring activities with local communities and harbor users. Through the associated LivingLabs, we provide unique opportunities to teach and learn by doing hands-on projects that address and solve local environmental issues.

Native Hawaiian Ahupua’a approach
(Image credit:


The GHP methodology is derived from a 1500 year-old Native Hawaiian Ahupua'a approach. These ancient sustainable practices went 'from the top of the mountain and watershed to the coral reefs' ensuring the stewardship of water, fish and natural resources across all habitats. Ahupua'a followed the underlying transects of keystone habitats nature had established in a coastal area for over millions of years that best fit and supported the needs of estuarine harbors for fish habitats, nutrient retention, water filtration and shoreline protection from erosion and storms.

Under the Ahupua’a approach, the main connection (and sometimes impediment) among the different self-sustaining units in a watershed is both water quality and water quantity. Therefore, land stewardship practices were established to ensure that the water used for agricultural purposes higher up the mountains was either unaffected or enhanced for downstream uses as well as for the coastal harbors.

(Image Credit: Frankić and Greber 2011)


In Boston (our nation's first harbor), the GHP seeks to implement a similar interconnectedness between the City of Boston and Boston Harbor. Based on the Ahupua'a approach, the GHP envisioned three potential layers/units where the LivingLabs should be established between academia and the local communities:

1. The city’s and harbor’s main watersheds: Neponset, Charles and Mystic

      a. The LivingLabs focus is on storm water management, green roofs and other pervious surfaces, as well as habitat restoration for watersheds self-sustainability

2. Coastal intertidal areas (i.e. LivingLabs at the Savin Hill Cove):

      a. I.e. the HarborWalk (potential restoration sites for native shellfish - oysters & mussels)

      b. Salt marsh restoration sites (i.e. floating islands)

      c. Tidal mud flats with soft shell clam restoration

3. Eelgrass beds and their restoration in Boston Harbor

The LivingLabs restoration approach is based on integrated restoration of three keystone coastal habitats where oyster reefs, and other shellfish beds are in the transect with salt marshes and eel grass beds. These keystone habitats have been established in nature for millions of years and cannot be restored successfully when separated from each other (Frankićet al, 2011).