Section 2: Creating Habitat Areas

Creation of habitat areas is an added consideration in landscaping and site planning decisions. While serving as a fully functioning business, your facility can also provide important habitat for a variety of species. Just as design and management decisions can accommodate existing resources, they can also create new habitat areas. By creating a hospitable environment for native species you will likely discover additional positive outcomes. For example, increased vegetative cover can filter and slow the flow of surface water runoff, stabilize shorelines, and provide wildlife habitat, flood protection, and visual diversity.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Select landscaping options that support native species.
  • Incorporate methods to preserve and enhance the surrounding habitat.

Best Management Practices

Maintain and/or Develop Vegetated Areas

  • Maintain vegetated buffers (e.g., rain gardens, trees and shrubs, or grasses) and infiltration areas between all impervious areas (e.g., parking lots, boat storage areas) and at the water’s edge. Properly constructed rain gardens and woody vegetation are more effective than grass turf in absorbing runoff and pollutants. For more on this topic, see: Stormwater Management Unit. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Plant vegetated areas with low maintenance plants — plants that require minimal care in terms of trimming, watering, and application of fertilizer and pesticides. Native plants demand little care since they are adapted to the local climate and soil. In addition, many horticultural varieties and imported plants may be considered beneficial if they have few maintenance requirements and if they do not displace naturally occurring vegetation (that is, if they are not invasive).
  • Select perennial plants instead of annuals. Perennial plants need only be planted once, tend to shade out most weeds, and few require additional water or maintenance.
  • Plant in naturalized patterns. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Choose plants that bear flowers, fruit, nuts, and seeds to attract birds, small mammals, and other wildlife. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Plants suitable for the particular area and climate must be used. Consult your local Cooperative Extension Service, Soil and Water Conservation District office, or local nurseries to get advice on selecting the best species for your location.
    Additional resources:
  • Maintain proper soil pH and fertility levels. Fertility describes the presence of nutrients and minerals in the soil. Acidity and alkalinity levels are indicated by pH. These two measures together tell you which plants your soil can support. Soil pH may be adjusted by adding lime (base) or gypsum (acid). Add organic matter such as compost, leaf mold, manure, grass clippings, bark, or peat moss to improve fertility.
  • Minimize fertilizer use and test your soil each year to determine fertility, pH, and application rates for soil amendments. Contact your county Extension or Soil Conservation District office for details. For example, Michigan State University Extension provides a Soil Test Kit Self-Mailer landowners can use to collect a soil sample for submission to county Extension or Soil Conservation District office for analysis. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Foster beneficial organisms. For example, earthworms move through the soil, feeding on microorganisms. In the process, they aerate the soil, which improves the flow of water and air to plant roots.
  • Compost leaves, branches, grass trimmings, and other organic matter. Use the mature compost to nourish your soil. Alternatively, chip branches and leaves, and use this material as mulch to discourage weeds and to conserve moisture. Organic material should never be deposited near or into any water body.

Habitat Enhancement

The addition of rock or the planting of native plant species on the shoreline can create new areas for feeding and spawning. Consider how any changes you make to the shoreline affect wildlife.

  • Enhance aquatic and terrestrial habitats adjacent to the marina basin. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Create natural areas to use as educational features. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Conduct ecological restoration. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Conserve and protect existing sensitive areas and habitats. Minimize disturbance to native vegetation in riparian buffer areas. Riparian buffer areas are narrow areas along the banks of rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and wetlands. When vegetation is retained here, plants help filter pollutants from runoff water, which helps protect water quality and biodiversity. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Establish “no wake zones,” minimize hard surfaces, especially vertical walls, and use vegetative shoreline protection measures where possible. Regional Best Management Practice
  • Minimize the use of riprap where possible and maintain native vegetation along shorelines. If structural shoreline protection must be used, use riprap revetments instead of vertical bulkhead walls (concrete or steel sheet pile) as much as possible. For more information on shoreline management decisions, see: Siting Considerations and Marina Design Unit – Section 2: Designing Marina Facilities and Structures section.
  • Consider using captive beaches between rock headlands to protect shorelines and provide beach habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, and turtles.
  • Add spawning-sized rocks at the toe of breakwalls to enhance fish spawning habitat. Consult the state natural resources agency’s fish manager in your area for the proper rock size for desired fish species in your area.
  • Create or allow development of wetland vegetation along the outside perimeter of the marina or in shallow water areas. Wetland vegetation provides fish and wildlife habitat and helps reduce erosion and shoreline damage from storms and wave action. Wave breaking with biodegradable linear shoreline protection may be necessary during plant establishment. Use coir logs (durable, biodegradable cylinders, often made of coconut fiber, used for erosion prevention) or brush bundles that can be colonized by emergent wetland vegetation and become part of the newly created wetland fringe.

Perhaps the greatest contribution you can make to safeguarding native species in the Great Lakes is to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species. See: Aquatic Invasive Species Unit.

Next: Unit Review