Casco Bay: A National Treasure
Casco Bay is an estuary, a fertile crescent of ocean where rivers and tides converge. Most of our country’s population centers were built along estuaries. These cradles of colonization, such as Boston Harbor, Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, and Casco Bay, offered early settlers food from the sea, salt marsh hay for grazing livestock, and waterways for exploring the interior.
The rivers that fed the estuaries were tapped for drinking water, hydropower, and sewage disposal. Such use and abuse left some estuaries dead zones. Thanks to the watchful advocacy of many guardians, Casco Bay survives, although not as it was in Colonial days.
Casco BAYKEEPER® Joe Payne notes, “Unlike some other estuaries, Casco Bay isn’t dead or dying, but it is suffering from a lot of cuts. Our problems are manageable- we can work on them; we can even see the results; we can win. It is vitally important that all the friends of Casco Bay continue their activities towards improving the health of the Bay.”
Our estuary is saltier than most (a characteristic apparently preferred by lobsters) and cleaner than the rest, a quality enjoyed by all who spend time on Casco Bay. The Bay supports some 850 species of marine life; from microscopic plants to migrating pilot whales. Each spring, fifty islands become noisy nesting colonies for many of the 150 species of waterbirds that inhabit Casco Bay. Casco Bay is both a working waterfront and a port of call for cruise ships, oil tankers, and bulk cargo transports and a scenic postcard of historic forts, stalwart lighthouses, and secluded anchorages.
Casco Bay has not always been so picturesque. Beginning in the mid-1800s, tanneries, foundries, slaughterhouses, and shipyards amassed along the waterfront. Over the years, power plants, filling stations, tank farms, and sewage outfalls were added to the shoreline. Though many of these pollution sources have been removed, polluted runoff, combined sewer overflows, boat sewage, and the threat of oil spills still jeopardize the health of the Bay.
A Minute for the Bay
Have you had a compelling experience on, in, or around Casco Bay? What is your most recent or memorable experience that made you feel connected to Casco Bay? Please use our contact form to share your experience with us.
Winter on Casco Bay
An Estuary of “National Significance”
Casco Bay is one of 28 estuaries in the nation that has been designated an “Estuary of National Significance” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA established the National Estuary Program in 1987 to protect nationally significant estuaries threatened by pollution, development, or overuse. In 1990, Casco Bay was inducted into the program, and the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership was created to develop a plan to preserve the ecological integrity of Casco Bay and ensure compatible human uses of the Bay’s resources through public stewardship and effective management.
The Casco Bay Estuary Partnership (CBEP) is one of Friends of Casco Bay’s primary partners. Besides providing us with on-going, significant support for our Water Quality Monitoring and Vessel Pumpout Programs, we partner on various projects such as lobster relocation, sediment sampling, and clam flat restoration. The Casco Bay Estuary Partnership also works with many other partners throughout the Casco Bay watershed as you will see when you visit the CBEP’s website.
Where In the World Is Casco Bay?
Casco Bay is located in southern Maine. It extends from Cape Elizabeth to Cape Small, encompassing 13 coastal towns, including two of the largest cities in Maine, Portland and South Portland. The Casco Bay watershed collects water from 42 communities and 958 square miles from Bethel to the coast.