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Looking back and looking ahead: leadership at Friends

Dear Friends,

It has already been three weeks since we gathered with 200 Friends of the Bay to celebrate the career, contributions, and retirement of our longtime Executive Director, Cathy Ramdsell. Cathy’s send-off party, held outdoors at Portland Yacht Services’ boatyard, marked our first in-person event since the onset of the pandemic. It was heartwarming and rejuvenating to see so many supporters, partners, and colleagues after so much time apart. Cathy shared it meant the world to her that we could all be together for this watershed moment. You can view photos and revisit that special evening here.

So what’s next?

Friends of Casco Bay’s Board of Directors will officially launch the search for our next Executive Director soon. As Board President Sandy Marsters has said, “We are grateful that Cathy waited for our organization to reach its current state of maturity and stability before moving on to the next phase of her life. Organizationally, we are stronger than ever: our finances are sound, we have a team of interdisciplinary staff producing incredible work, and our visibility is at an all-time high.”

In the meantime, the board has appointed me to serve as Interim Director. Having worked with our exceptional staff, board members, and community since 2006, and knowing our collective passion for Casco Bay, I am honored to serve our organization during this transition.

Here are some examples of the incredible efforts our staff and volunteers have pursued over the past few weeks.

While we were organizing Cathy’s retirement party, we were also responding to an oil spill at Willard Beach in South Portland. The beach was closed for three days as state, local, and private cleanup teams removed 2,000 pounds of contaminated material. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca toured the beach soon after the spill was reported. You can read about Ivy’s experience at the cleanup here.

The spill was a stark reminder that protecting the health of the Bay requires vigilance.

This is why we are delighted to have more than 375 volunteer Water Reporters helping us keep watch over Casco Bay. Some Water Reporters recently took a field trip with Ivy and Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman to the Mere Point Boat Launch to share how they all could be better stewards. If you volunteer your time as a Water Reporter, thank you. If you want to join this observing network, we would love to have you aboard. You can learn more here.

As autumn begins, we are concluding our first summer with three Continuous Monitoring Stations in the water, gathering data every hour on a changing Casco Bay. These data have already begun to offer new insights about our waters. The data is used in our efforts to reduce pollution and help our communities be more resilient to the effects of climate change. To learn about these insights and what else Ivy and Staff Scientist Mike Doan observed this field season, keep an eye out for our next Casco Bay Matters event.

September is coastal cleanup month. Our community members are taking to our coast to pick up trash and litter. In the process they are helping to protect wildlife, collect data for marine debris research and advocacy efforts, and keeping our shores cleaner and safer. Click here for ways you can join them.

Your support means more to us than ever. We look forward to keeping you updated about our search for new leadership and about our work ahead. Thank you for caring about the health of Casco Bay.

With appreciation,

Will Everitt
Interim Director
Friends of Casco Bay

Photos by: Kevin Morris, Ivy Frignoca, and Glenn Michaels

Leave No Trace on Casco Bay

Imagine stepping out of a boat onto a Casco Bay island. What would you hear and see? Perhaps the rhythm of crashing waves, wild roses rustling in the breeze, or a gull crying as it circles overhead.

But would you ever imagine the sight of  food wrappers, derelict fishing gear, abandoned water bottles scattered along the shore, or the sound of plastic crunching underfoot? For Christina Hassett, a Regional Stewardship Manager with the Maine Island Trail Association, this kind of scene can be all too familiar.

“It can be disheartening when you come onto an island, and you’re walking through the shoreline where the grass is tall, and with every step you hear the crunch of plastic,” said Christina. “There are some islands on the coast where it’s that bad.”

At the Maine Island Trail Association, Christina, her colleagues, and volunteers work to maintain and care for the trail’s islands that line Maine’s coast, including those in Casco Bay. Unfortunately, removing plastic and marine debris can be a big part of their job.

“We do a pretty tremendous amount of shoreline cleanup,” shared Christina, “and mostly we’re cleaning up plastic that washes up on the islands.” While marine debris has many sources, Christina noted that some of the debris she has found on Maine islands “clearly flew off someone’s boat.” For boaters, one of the best ways to help address the problem of marine debris is with preventative measures. Taking an extra moment to make sure all of your gear is tied down and secure before heading out on the water makes all the difference. To go the extra mile, boaters can pick-up marine debris found on the water or while exploring the calendar islands and dispose of it on land. Ensuring we boaters leave no trace is just one more way we can all practice habits for a healthy bay.

Leave no trace, nothing over the side
Trash and litter harm the Bay and its ecosystems. 

A wide variety of trash and litter can be found on the shores and in the waters of Casco Bay. Marine debris has many impacts: ensnaring, choking and blocking digestion in marine life; disrupting biological productivity at the base of the coastal food web; and releasing toxins and chemicals into the Bay. The vast majority of marine debris is plastic and not biodegradable and will persist in the water well beyond our lifetimes.

Always secure plastic bags, cans, and other potential litter while out on the water and properly dispose of them on land. Just like hikers on their favorite trails, we boaters on Casco Bay are expected to leave no trace.

To learn more, visit http://www.cascobay.org/boating. Thank you for caring about the health of Casco Bay. And thank you to Maine Island Trail Association for being a partner in our work.


Water Reporter Post of the Month

Volunteer Water Reporters help us keep an eye on the health of the Bay. Each month we share a volunteer’s report that we found compelling, moved our work forward, or highlighted a key issue about Casco Bay. This month, we are sharing a #wildlife observation: volunteer Linda Stimpson’s Water Reporter post of this prehistoric creature – with nine eyes and ten legs – scuttling along the shore of Casco Bay. You can see Linda’s post and read more about the creature here.

Water Reporter Post of the Month: Linda Stimpson

Horseshoe crabs: ancient animals in Casco Bay

Linda Stimpson has lived in Maine for much of her adult life, but it wasn’t until recently that she first spotted this prehistoric creature – with nine eyes and ten legs – scuttling along the shore of Casco Bay.

In her Water Reporter post from July 12, Linda photographed a horseshoe crab on the stretch of beach between Wolfe’s Neck State Park and Googins Island.

“They’re ancient creatures,” said Linda, referring to the fact that these invertebrates have been on earth for over 300 million years (that is even older than dinosaurs). Despite the threatening impression that may come from their spike covered shell and long pointy tail, “they’re really quite docile,” shared Linda.

Adult horseshoe crabs live deep in the ocean, but they search out sandy shores in the spring and summer to spawn. Once on shore, females dig nests in the sand where they deposit their eggs to be fertilized by males. In Casco Bay, horseshoe crabs are known to spawn in Middle Bay and Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick, though Linda’s photo clearly shows that they also make their way further west. Linda also shared that she recently saw a horseshoe crab on the shores of Mackworth Island.

Horseshoe crabs play an important role in coastal food webs, as their eggs are a nutritious food source for fish, turtles, and migratory shore birds. In addition to their ecological importance, horseshoe crabs play a critical role in modern medicine. Their blood is used to test for the presence of bacterial endotoxins in sterile pharmaceuticals, like artificial joints, intravenous drugs, and even COVID-19 vaccines!

Linda, thank you for keeping an eye out for these ancient animals in Casco Bay, and for being a Water Reporter.

How does something so tiny drive change in the Bay?

What factors drive seasonal changes in the waters of Casco Bay?

Staff Scientist Mike Doan addresses this question by looking at recent data from our Continuous Monitoring Stations in our latest Mike’s Field Notes video.

Our Continuous Monitoring Stations collect data hourly on a variety of key water quality and climate change indicators across Casco Bay. Understanding the ways that climate change is impacting the Bay requires many years of data. As we work to collect these long-term data sets, we need to become familiar with the factors that drive short-term changes in water quality. These short-term changes may occur between seasons, months, or even day-to-day.

The activity of phytoplankton – the microscopic plants at the base of the marine food web – is one factor that influences many of the parameters we track in our Continuous Monitoring data. In this video, Mike breaks down how phytoplankton can influence acidity, as well as the amounts of carbon dioxide and oxygen in Casco Bay.

As always, you can view our Continuous Monitoring Station data on our website.

Thank you for caring about the health of Casco Bay.

Celebrating Cathy Ramsdell

After 18 years of serving as our Executive Director at Friends of Casco Bay, Cathy Ramsdell retired on September 2, 2021. In honor of Cathy and her leadership, we hosted a celebration on August 26. Cathy arrived to the party by boat. At the event, staff and board shared reflections on Cathy’s leadership and Gulf of Maine poet Gary Lawless read his poem, “For Casco Bay, For Us.

Celebrating Cathy Ramsdell – A Retirement Party

Don’t pee or poop in the Bay

David Gooch is a boater with a lifelong connection to Casco Bay. When asked why he always pumps-out his blackwater, David recalls a vivid memory from his childhood growing up in Falmouth.

“We used to swim down at Town Landing, back in the 1950s,” says David. “At times there was toilet paper on my shoulder and little brown boats floating in front of my face.”

From that young age, it has been clear to David that sewage does not belong in Casco Bay. While the brown boats David remembers from childhood are no longer encountered at Falmouth Town Landing, he remains adamant that boaters have a responsibility to follow the law and care for the Bay’s waters.

Pumping out your boat’s sewage does more than keep poop and fecal bacteria out of the Bay: it also prevents nitrogen pollution. Urine contains nitrogen in the form of urea. Casco Bay has long struggled with excess inputs of nitrogen. Too much nitrogen in the Bay contributes to the growth of nuisance and harmful algal blooms, which in turn can exacerbate coastal acidification. By keeping pee out of the Bay you are helping to reduce nitrogen pollution in our coastal waters.

“There’s no reason to not pumpout your boat,” says David, noting that many pumpout services around the Bay are free of cost, such as the pumpout station at Falmouth Town Landing. “The old saying was ‘dilution is the solution to pollution,’ but it’s not true anymore.”

We at Friends of Casco Bay could not agree more with David. As boaters, we know that there are more boats on the Bay than ever before. For the health of our coastal waters, we all must practice habits for a healthy bay.

Don’t pee or poop in Casco Bay 

It is illegal and harmful to discharge sewage into Casco Bay. 

Casco Bay is a federally-designated No Discharge Area, which means it is illegal to release blackwater (raw or treated sewage) from any vessel into the Bay — this includes peeing over the side. All boats in Casco Bay must hold their blackwater until it can be removed at a pumpout facility. It is also illegal for any vessel to discharge graywater (shower, sink, or onboard laundry water) that is mixed with blackwater.

For smaller boats without an onboard toilet, urine and feces must be collected and disposed of at facilities on land. Many boaters keep an emergency bucket onboard for such situations.

We may ask ourselves: Casco Bay is large, how can one person’s waste have a negative impact? The EPA has said the untreated sewage from one weekend boater contains the same quantity of bacteria as the sewage from 10,000 people that has been processed by a treatment plant. Considering that thousands of boats anchor and pass through Casco Bay each summer, the harmful impacts of boater sewage can add up fast.

To learn more, visit http://www.cascobay.org/boating/.

Thank you for caring about the health of Casco Bay.

Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station

Celebrating Data and New Stations


Last month we celebrated the launch of our new Continuous Monitoring Stations by taking a first look at the data they are collecting in Casco Bay.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan walked us through preliminary data on temperature, salinity, pH, chlorophyll, and carbon dioxide from all three Continuous Monitoring Stations. These detailed data sets reveal similarities and differences in water quality across the Bay and can show the influence of local conditions and weather events. After sharing these new data with us, Mike was joined by Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca to discuss how we are using science to fuel our advocacy and protect the health of Casco Bay.

Here is a recording of the event for those of you who were unable to attend or would like to revisit the conversation. If you don’t have time to watch the whole recording, here are a few clips of key moments you may find interesting:

Here’s a video of all three of our Continuous Monitoring Stations splashing down, ready to collect data 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.


After our Yarmouth station was launched in 2016, we realized we needed additional stations to fully grasp changing conditions across the Bay. In this 2 minute clip, Mike shares why it is important to have three stations and explains why we located our new stations in Harpswell and Portland Harbor. 


In this 7 minute clip, Mike shares preliminary data from all three Continuous Monitoring Stations. While years of data will be required to assess trends and the impacts of climate change, these first three weeks of data highlight the influence of weather events and the variability in conditions across the Bay.


In this 2 minute clip, Ivy concludes our event with her response to a critical question about our Continuous Monitoring Stations: How important are these stations to combating climate change and keeping the Bay healthy?


Data from our three Continuous Monitoring Stations can be viewed at www.cascobay.org/our-work/science/continuous-monitoring-stations/.

Strong storm delivers heavy runoff to Casco Bay

Water Reporter Alert: High Volumes of Stormwater Runoff

We have received reports of high volumes of stormwater runoff entering Casco Bay, following yesterday’s thunderstorm and rain throughout the night.

We look to you to help us track the impacts of strong storms on a changing Bay. If you have time today, please post Water Reporter photographs of streams, rivers, stormwater outfalls, and any other outlets delivering runoff and stormwater into Casco Bay.

Stormwater is a major source of pollution to Casco Bay. Rivers and streams collect runoff that can contain a toxic mixture of car exhaust from our streets, fertilizers and pesticides from our lawns, and even sewage from our wastewater systems.

John Henson, a good Friend of the Bay, contacted us this morning with photos of Mill Creek taken from route 88 in Falmouth Foreside. “I’ve never seen this much stormwater before,” said John in his message.

If you can help us today, adjust for weather and safety. No photo, however dramatic, is worth getting injured or swept away! Also be sure to follow all State of Maine and Centers for Disease Control guidelines regarding the pandemic.

Thank you for helping us keep an eye on Casco Bay.

Casco Bay is a No Discharge Area (NDA)

Casco Bay is a federally-designated No Discharge Area, which means it is illegal to release blackwater (raw or treated sewage) from any vessel into the Bay. All boats in Casco Bay must hold their blackwater until it can be removed at a pumpout facility. It is also illegal for any vessel to discharge graywater (shower, sink, or onboard laundry water) that is mixed with blackwater. 

Smaller boats without an onboard toilet are not exempt from the No Discharge Area rules, and must collect blackwater and human waste to be disposed of at facilities on land. Some boaters keep an emergency bucket onboard for such situations.

A Note on Graywater

Graywater is wastewater from a boat’s showers, sinks, or onboard laundry. While recreational vessels (specifically, vessels that carry fewer than 250 passengers) are legally permitted to discharge graywater (when not combined with blackwater) into Casco Bay, Friends of Casco Bay does not recommend this practice. Graywater still contains elements that can harm the health of the Bay. We recommend the following practices to reduce the negative impacts of graywater and help keep the Bay clean:

  • If your vessel is large enough, hold your graywater to be pumped-out with your blackwater at a pumpout facility. 
  • When cleaning or doing dishes, use nontoxic and biodegradable cleaners with no phosphorus or nitrogen compounds. Always dilute cleaners to the maximum extent possible. 

Executive Director Cathy L. Ramsdell is retiring

A letter from Cathy:

Dear Friends,

I have news to share with you today. I have decided to retire.

I am elated to have spent the better part of the past two decades serving as Executive Director of Friends of Casco Bay. When I say “the better part of the past two decades,” I mean that in every way. Friends of Casco Bay has been my top priority and I am delighted to have been able to play a part in making a difference; together we have accomplished so much.

It won’t surprise you to know that I tried to plan the timing of my retirement in a way that would be optimal for Friends, not just for me. That moment is now.

Our three Continuous Monitoring Stations are positioned strategically to monitor water quality hourly, year-round, allowing us to hear what the Bay is telling us about how conditions are changing. We have a fund dedicated to supporting this work over the next decade, and it is gratifying to know that we will continue to “listen” to the Bay for years to come. Our Casco Baykeeper is tackling the regulatory environment in unique ways to improve water quality and help build coastal resilience in the face of climate change. And, community members around the Bay are becoming citizen steward Water Reporters, documenting all kinds of issues and changing conditions, and their reports are getting the attention of environmental and enforcement agencies.

Our mission is durable, our approach is collaborative, and our efforts have led to many wins for the Bay while we have built a resilient, responsive organization that knows how to evolve. The balance sheet is strong, and the staff and board are working together better than ever.

I cannot imagine a more wholesome time for my departure, or a more dedicated and experienced group of people than our board and staff to guide Friends of Casco Bay into the next phase of its organizational life.

Let me take this moment to Thank You. Each person who has worked with us in any capacity has helped make my job easier and more fulfilling. My heart is full of gratitude for the special moments, the challenges and the accomplishments that together we have been able to experience.

It is impossible to imagine what each day will be like not interacting with my colleagues on the staff and on the board. I have learned so much from each one over the years.

I will express my appreciation by continuing to invest in the work of Friends of Casco Bay, both by contributing financially on an annual basis, and by joining the Anchor Society to make Friends a beneficiary of my estate. The Anchor Society has many ways we can make planned gifts that make good sense, so please consider joining me in this.

As Friends of Casco Bay begins to envision new leadership for this next exciting phase, I too am beginning to try to envision life in the future without Friends of Casco Bay top of mind.

I look forward to seeing what adventures lie ahead. Maybe I’ll start by watching the fall migrations, or sitting down to write more often, with whimsy or intent. I have pieces of poems everywhere, and maybe I can get back to work on those books, the one on my dad’s investigations into metaphysics and the other on the challenges of our remote work on seabird colonies in the Bering Strait. I’ll have time to follow the development of big weather fronts if I feel like it, and time to have long talks and go on long walks in special spots around the Bay. And then there is simply being instead of doing . . . I think I’ll start there.

In the meantime, I’ll know Friends is in good hands.

With much love,

Cathy L. Ramsdell
Executive Director
Friends of Casco Bay

A message from our Board President

On a recent evening while Cathy and I were discussing her retirement, Cathy reflected that looking back on all of her years with Friends of Casco Bay, it feels good to think that she may have made a difference. In response, I retorted that this comment may have been the understatement of her career. 

Cathy’s leadership over the past 18 years has brought more success to our organization and to the health of Casco Bay than I could ever summarize. As Executive Director, Cathy ushered Friends toward our exceptionally strong financial footing and organizational structure, while leading our staff and infusing our program work with her lifelong passion for the marine environment. Today, Casco Bay is cleaner, more protected, and healthier thanks to Cathy’s dedication to our work. 

Cathy’s retirement timing is impeccable. Organizationally, we are stronger than ever: our finances are sound, we have a team of interdisciplinary staff producing incredible work, and our visibility is at an all-time high. Cathy’s presence and perspective will certainly be missed, and we are so grateful that she has waited for our organization to reach its current state of maturity and stability before moving on to the next phase of her life. We will launch a search for our next Executive Director after taking some time to reflect on what we have achieved together and the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead. 

Thank you, Cathy, for your service to our organization, our community, and above all else, the marine waters that define our home: Casco Bay. 

Andrew “Sandy” Marsters
President, Board of Directors 
Friends of Casco Bay

Save the Date! Cathy’s retirement party

In honor of Cathy and her leadership, we are throwing a celebration and we would love for you to join us.

On Thursday, August 26, we will gather outside at Portland Yacht Services for our first in person gathering in 18 months! We will be sending out more information about Cathy’s party soon. In the meantime we welcome you to RSVP online, here.