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Friends of Casco Bay’s 2020 Members Annual Meeting

 

Celebrate With Us!

Friends of Casco Bay’s Members Annual Meeting

In this 30 second video, Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell invites you to join us to celebrate 30 years of working with you to keep Casco Bay blue!

In honor of this auspicious occasion, we are hosting a couple of online events, and we want you to join us for the first, on Tuesday, June 16. You will hear from our Congressionals, vote our Board of Directors into office, share in our collective successes, and hear about our plans for the decade ahead.

 

Register

 

Friends of Casco Bay’s Members Annual Meeting

When: Tuesday, June 16, 5 to 6 pm. While the event will begin at 5 pm, please log on and join us earlier as we gather together online, a little before 5 pm, for a special slideshow celebrating 30 years of protecting the health of Casco Bay.

Where: online using Zoom. Click here to register.

Who should attend: You! Our Annual Meeting is open to the entire community: our members, volunteers, supporters, professional colleagues, and all who love Casco Bay!

Thirty years ago, a small group of concerned citizens formed Friends of Casco Bay after a report identified the Bay as one of the most polluted regions in the nation. Since then, we have used a science-based, community-oriented approach to improve the health of our coastal waters. Our work goes on. And we don’t do this work alone – thank you for your input and support. We look forward to seeing you online on June 16.

 

Register

 

Take a tour of our Cage of Science

What is this Cage of Science that Friends of Casco Bay keeps talking about? We invite you to join Staff Scientist Mike Doan out on Casco Bay for a short tour of our Continuous Monitoring Station. In this 2 ½ minute video, Mike shows off the high-tech components of the station and shares why its stream of data is so important to our work.

Casco Bay Matters: Maine Climate Council, the online presentation 4/30/2020

We had a lively Casco Bay and the Maine Climate Council: A Casco Bay Matters Event last week! Here is a video of the event, for those of you who were not able to attend live or would like to relisten.

The results of the poll taken during the event reflect which coastal and marine strategies participants thought were the most important for the Climate Council to consider. In addition to the poll, many participants told us that all of the strategies are important to them.

Participants asked so many great questions that Cassy and I could not answer them all during the event. Please see the Q&A section below to see responses to the questions we did not have time to answer online.

If you have ideas or thoughts you would like to share with the Coastal and Marine Working Group of the Maine Climate Council, email me at ifrignoca [at] cascobay [dot] org by Friday, May 8th. I will collate the feedback and pass it on to the Working Group.

You can find a list of the Maine Climate Council’s upcoming public events on the Council’s webpage.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the Maine Climate Council process, the Coastal and Marine Working Group, the Working Group’s draft recommendations, and how these efforts connect to Casco Bay.

If you have feedback on our online presentation itself, please email keeper [at] cascobay [dot] org. We are always looking to improve.

You can make a donation to support our work to improve and protect Casco Bay anytime at cascobay.org/donate.

Thank you for helping us care for Casco Bay. Your interest and enthusiasm truly inspire me.

Warm regards,
Ivy Frignoca
Casco Baykeeper
Friends of Casco Bay

Questions from the event and answers:

Q: What type of monitoring is in place and what additions are planned?
A: This is a terrific and broad question, too large in fact to answer quickly or for me to know precisely all of the monitoring in place coast-wide in Maine.

The Science and Technical Subcommittee of the Maine Climate Council is producing reports that catalogue the state of our knowledge across sectors.

The Coastal and Marine Working Group is recommending monitoring and information exchange strategies to provide as much data as possible to decision makers.

We have included with the draft monitoring strategy example sources of existing data. Some broad examples of categories of coastal and marine data include fisheries landings, ocean chemistry data, nitrogen data, bacteria data, harmful algal blooms data, acreage of salt marsh habitat, and projections of the impacts of sea level rise.

Friends of Casco Bay has been monitoring the health of Casco Bay for 28 years. Researchers and state agencies are considering using our Continuous Monitoring Station as a model for coastal monitoring efforts in other areas of the state. You can read more about our monitoring efforts on our website.

Q: Are you looking at incentives for private owners of coastal marshes or public acquisition of these areas?
A: The Coastal and Marine Working Group is exploring ways to preserve salt marshes, and I will share your question with the ecosystem subcommittee of the Working Group.

Q: How can eelgrass bed “salvation” be worked on. I live at Willard Beach and remember that years ago there was such a bed offshore here.
A: According to recent mapping, Willard Beach still has a dense and extensive eelgrass bed. Eelgrass bed salvation depends on the cause of its demise. If an eelgrass bed is unhealthy or dying because of excess nitrogen entering the marine system due to human causes, we can work on eliminating or reducing the sources of nitrogen. This is not necessarily easy but can be done. If the demise is due to invasive green crab foraging, we face a different challenge. Green crabs have proven very difficult to control.

Q: I’m wondering if there’s been any discussion about sources of carbon from coastal and marine systems and whether/how those could be addressed? I get the impression that this working group focuses mostly on impacts from climate change rather than sources of carbon emissions. That makes a lot of sense, but I still wonder about the marine contributions.
A: Yes, the Coastal and Marine Working Group is tasked with considering sources of carbon from coastal and marine sources. My best understanding is that marine vessels make up a small percentage of total carbon emissions. Nonetheless, we are exploring options, such as port electrification. The Department of Environmental Protection recently updated a report on air emissions from marine vessels. Follow this link to view the report and learn how complicated this topic can be to regulate: https://www.maine.gov/dep/publications/reports/index.html

Q: Can you comment on where the focus is for the working group, blue carbon or emission reductions or some relative amount of ‘all of the above’? My concern with integrating blue carbon sequestration into climate policy is that people use those carbon sinks as a reason to not limit fossil fuel combustion, which is ultimately the only adaptation strategy that will work. Also, warming water temperatures, rising sea levels, etc, make blue carbon sequestration really difficult to quantify (it already is, as you know).
A: This is an astute question. We must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions significantly to achieve the mitigation goals set forth by statute. A lot of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation sources. The portion of those emissions attributed to marine vessels is fairly small. We are considering mitigation of those sources. The ecosystem subcommittee (of which I am a member) really liked the blue carbon strategy because of the complete suite of mitigation, resilience, and adaptation benefits derived from improving and protecting the health of our marshes and eelgrass beds. I agree that carbon sequestration alone will not solve the problem, and other working groups are developing detailed strategies for transportation, energy, buildings, and more, all designed to reduce our carbon footprint.

Q: How do any of these strategies dovetail with similar GMRI strategies and how they are structured?
A: The Maine Climate Council was created by state law and is an action plan for the state. I cannot answer how the plan may ultimately align with the work of GMRI (Gulf of Maine Research Institute) or others. GMRI is participating in the council, as are many other research and marine organizations around the state, including, for example, Friends of Casco Bay, Island Institute, Downeast Institute, Maine Sea Grant, and Bigelow Labortatory.

Q: Can you comment on the potential benefits to lobster habitat from kelp and other aquaculture? 
A: This is outside of my area of expertise. The fisheries and aquaculture subcommittee has experts who are exploring such questions. If you have information to share in this regard or would like me to try to connect you with the appropriate expert, please email me directly.

Q: Do you think there might be a better recognition in the world’s society as to how we should more rapidly approach “catastrophic risk” planning regarding climate change, perhaps as we should have approached the planning for a pandemic?
A: As a world, we are way behind on coordinated action to address the climate crisis. Through the Maine Climate Council, hundreds of researchers, advocates, and policy experts are working to do what we can at the state level. The four year state action plan intends to build upon existing efforts, foster action, and be rooted in sound science. We are heartened that municipalities, such as Portland and South Portland, are adopting plans for mitigating and adapting to climate change. At Friends of Casco Bay, we are advocating for local, regional, and national solutions. It will be up to all of us to work together on many different levels to tackle these issues.

Q: How can we help Friends of Casco Bay?
A: We’re glad you asked! We have many ways you can help. You can make a donation to our work. You can also help keep an eye on the changes happening around the Bay by volunteering as a Water Reporter.

Q: Do the Maine Climate Council and the Working Groups have an email feed to keep up with meetings and document releases?
A: Yes, the Maine Climate Council does. Visit
https://www.maine.gov/future/initiatives/climate/climate-council and scroll down, looking on the right-hand side of the page to find the sign-up form.

Q: Is Friends of Casco Bay looking at an electric boat?
A: Although we continue to explore ways to reduce our carbon footprint, we are not looking at an electric boat at present. We chose our inboard diesel Baykeeper boat back in 2012, because it provided a large, safe, efficient, and fast enough platform for us to do our work out on the Bay.

Q: Will Ivy’s slides be available on the Climate Council website?
A: No, however the recording of this event is available here: https://youtu.be/fWxc_hHyt_M

Good Green vs. Bad Green

If you have ever tried to pick the right shade of green to paint your bedroom, you know there are soothing greens and greens you would never want to wake up to. The same holds true in the ocean.

Algae is one of those “greens” that can be a sign of a healthy ecosystem; but large areas of mudflats may become covered in a nightmarish bright green when algal growth is fueled by too much nitrogen in the water.

In 2019, as the water warmed from spring through fall, volunteers in our Water Reporter observing network tracked algal blooms that appeared in 18 different locations around Casco Bay. The photos they took on their smartphones documented changes throughout the summer, as the algal blooms expanded to worrisome levels in many coves from Cape Elizabeth to Harpswell and West Bath.

In 2017, we tracked algal growth at five sites. We do not have enough historical data to know whether nuisance algal blooms are expanding or simply that we are getting better at tracking more sites, thanks to our growing network of Water Reporters.

In any case, nuisance and harmful algal blooms are an increasing concern. Water Reporters are already discovering and tracking sightings in 2020!

Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman oversees our Water Reporter program. This year, Sarah hopes to recruit additional volunteers to our band of intrepid Water Reporters who track algal blooms. “Each volunteer will adopt a specific Bay location to observe weekly. Images of algae from the ‘good’ amounts to ‘concerning’ amounts are helpful because we can’t predict where and when a small patch of algae may become a nuisance algal bloom.”

Currently, there are 205 volunteers in our Water Reporter network. Together, they have recorded 991 observations about Casco Bay. If you are interested, learn more at cascobay.org/water-reporter.

Our Water Reporters tracked algal blooms at 18 locations around the Bay in 2019.

Nitrogen fertilizes the ocean, too

Nitrogen encourages the growth of plants on land and in the ocean, where it stimulates the growth of algae, from microscopic phytoplankton to sinuous seaweeds, the base of the ocean food web.

Excess nitrogen can stimulate algal growth beyond what marine life can absorb. Nuisance algal blooms can cover tidal flats with a thick carpet of “green slime,” smothering animals below the mat and preventing juvenile clams from settling into the mud. Large phytoplankton blooms can reduce water clarity. When these blooms die, decomposition sucks life-giving oxygen out of the seawater and releases carbon dioxide, creating acidic conditions that make it harder for clams and mussels to build and maintain their shells.

Boom and Bust: How phytoplankton influence pH

When we look at our water quality data, we can see that some characteristics of the Bay influence other characteristics. In this example, large phytoplankton blooms have a big impact on the chemistry of Casco Bay.

Ready for some Marine Science 101?

In the graph below, we compare two types of data we collect at our Continuous Monitoring Station: chlorophyll and pH.


We measure chlorophyll to understand how much phytoplankton is in the water. Phytoplankton are microscopic plants that are the base of the food chain. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in phytoplankton (and all plants) that traps the energy of the sun for photosynthesis. Higher levels of chlorophyll indicate an abundance of phytoplankton. Graphs of chlorophyll show when populations of phytoplankton are on the rise and when they crash.

pH is a measure of acidity. The lower the pH, the more acidic the solution. The pH measurement decreases as acidity increases. That is because pH is an inverse measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution, measured on a scale of 0 to 14. The scale is logarithmic, and each number is an order of magnitude different. For example, a pH of 7 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 8, and one hundred times more acidic than a pH of 9. pH is an abbreviation for “power of hydrogen.” Any solution with a pH lower than 7 has more hydrogen ions than hydroxide ions. Data from our Continuous Monitoring Station show that pH is around 8.0 on average, but changes hourly, daily, and seasonally.

What is this graph telling us?

The graph above compares chlorophyll and pH data from our station. The two lines track the daily means of that data calculated from July 2016 through mid-March 2020.

You can see the variability in both chlorophyll and pH over time, moving from left to right.

When chlorophyll spikes, there is generally an uptick in pH, and then a decrease in pH as chlorophyll levels drop.

Why does this happen?

Whenever carbon dioxide (CO2) is added to water, the water becomes more acidic (pH goes down). The opposite is true as well. Acidity decreases (pH goes up) as CO2 is removed from the water.

This image of phytoplankton is courtesy of Southern Maine Community College.

When phytoplankton photosynthesize, they convert carbon dioxide (CO2) from the water to carbohydrates and oxygen. This reduces the amount of CO2 in the water, lowering the acidity. The larger the bloom of phytoplankton, and the longer the daylight hours, the lower the acidity (and the higher the pH). Other factors influence pH as well, but the amount of phytoplankton is a primary driver.

As the bloom ends, much of the phytoplankton die and decompose. The process of decomposition releases CO2 to the water and pH levels go down (more acidic water).

Compare changes in chlorophyll and changes in acidity throughout the year here.

Reducing a large source of pollution into the Bay

After a rainstorm, millions of gallons of polluted stormwater pour into Casco Bay.A wedge of dirty brown water floating on Casco Bay after a hard rain makes it is easy to understand that stormwater is one of the largest sources of pollution to our coastal waters. Stormwater can wash fertilizer, oil, pesticides, dirt, bacteria and other pollutants into our coastal waters. After one heavy rainstorm, we found a wedge of polluted stormwater 18 feet deep floating on top of seawater in Portland Harbor. Some of that polluted water flows into the Bay through storm drains, pipes, and ditches maintained by municipalities.

Over the next five years, many of the larger municipalities in the Casco Bay watershed will try to significantly reduce stormwater pollution. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection issues a new permit every five years to regulate pollution from municipal separate storm sewer systems. In each new permit cycle, the intent is to make communities more effective at reducing stormwater pollution.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca is especially excited about two new provisions in the draft permit that regulates pollution from municipal separate storm sewer systems—MS4s for short.

Says Ivy, “Under the proposed permit, municipalities must test their stormwater outfalls for bacteria and other pollutants—and if found, they must trace them back to the source and work to eliminate the pollutants. Second, if a stormwater system discharges into an urban impaired stream listed in the permit, the municipality must identify ways it will reduce pollution, both through structural changes to treat stormwater and nonstructural changes, which could include adoption of an ordinance to restrict and reduce the use of fertilizers.”

Fred Dillon, South Portland Stormwater Program Coordinator, and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca test for bacteria in a municipal stormwater pipe in the Willard Beach neighborhood. [Photo taken last summer.]
Our Casco Baykeeper commented on many preliminary drafts of the new MS4 permit. She also met with state and town officials many times to discuss permit terms. Says Ivy, “We are gratified that our towns and cities worked with us and agreed to take these measures to improve and protect the waters we cherish and rely on.”

Fred Dillon, South Portland’s Stormwater Program Coordinator, reflects, “Ivy and Friends of Casco Bay were instrumental in helping MS4 communities step up our water resource protection efforts while also ensuring we have the adequate funding to do so.” South Portland is one of the communities around Casco Bay regulated under the general MS4 permit, along with Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Freeport, Portland, Scarborough, Westbrook, and Yarmouth.

Warm winter = early algal blooms

On March 3rd, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca strolled the South Portland shoreline near our office. She was shocked to see green algae growing at the base of the Spring Point seawall. In the past, we have not begun to see widespread nuisance algal blooms until late May or early June. Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman issued an alert to our observing network. Soon, our volunteer Water Reporters were posting images of green algal blooms in coves around the Bay.

What could be fueling these algal blooms so early in the year? Staff Scientist Mike Doan searched for answers by looking at our water quality data. At our Continuous Monitoring Station, the bright green growth did not correspond to a spike in chlorophyll levels, normally associated with a phytoplankton bloom. Our data did show that we have had an extremely warm winter. Heavy rains may have flushed nutrient-laden meltwater into coastal waters weeks earlier than in past years. In fact, just a few days prior to Ivy’s sighting in South Portland, we had an intense rain event. Lengthening daylight and warming temperatures also likely contributed to the emergence of these blooms.

Sarah encourages more people to volunteer as Water Reporters to track these early indicators of excess nitrogen. “Each volunteer can adopt a specific location around the Bay to observe weekly, ideally at low tide, any time between an hour before and after. Images of algae from ‘good’ amounts to ‘concerning’ amounts are helpful because we can’t predict where and when a small patch of algae may become a nuisance algal bloom.”

The blooms we have seen this month are small, but excess nitrogen can stimulate algal growth beyond healthy amounts for the ecosystem. Nuisance algal blooms can cover tidal flats with a thick carpet of “green slime,” smothering animals below the mat and preventing juvenile clams from settling into the mud.

If you are interested in joining our effort to track these blooms, learn more at cascobay.org/water-reporter or call Sarah at (207) 370-7553.

Flushable wipes are not flushable

With toilet paper currently in short supply, there is a looming problem that threatens cities, towns, and water districts. So-called flushable wipes are clogging sewer systems.

Flushable wipes are NOT flushable.

Friends of Casco Bay has worked with the Portland Water District to educate the community that “flushables” actually are not flushable; they do not disappear innocuously down the toilet. Many consumers find, to their chagrin, that these products can cause sewage backups inside their homes. Nonflushables clog the pipes leading to sewage treatment plants. The resulting debris must be removed manually. The money that this costs taxpayers, rate payers, and homeowners, to repair these problems would be better spent on other municipal upgrades and improvements.

Even tissues do not break down the same way as toilet paper. See News Center Maine’s interview with Portland Water District on this topic here.

We’re still monitoring the health of Casco Bay, and you can too

It is lonely out on the pier where Staff Scientist Mike Doan is collecting data on the health of Casco Bay — and he is playing it safe, taking his own selfie as seen here.

We are continuing to monitor the health of Casco Bay. Our Continuous Monitoring Station is still collecting data every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Mike services the station every two weeks, making sure the equipment is clean and well-calibrated.

Mike has seen some unusual readings over the past few months — a large phytoplankton bloom in December, a smaller one in February, and warmer-than-usual water temperatures in January and February. He is anxious to compare data from March.

“This has been an unusual winter, and I’m curious to see how conditions change as we move into spring,” Mike reflects.

You can take a look at the data on our website. We also encourage you to get out along the Bay — while maintaining social distancing — and record your own observations on your smartphone. You can find out how on our Water Reporter page.

Mary Cerullo, Associate Director

Mary Cerullo Begins a New Chapter

Mary Cerullo, Associate DirectorAs many Friends of the Bay know, over the past 22 years, Associate Director Mary Cerullo has been our writer-in-residence, our media maven, the developer of our Casco Bay Curriculum, our lead ambassador for BayScaping, and a key team member in our community relations work. If you attended one of our events in the past two decades, it is likely that you were greeted by Mary’s smiling face. Her warmth, collegiality, and talents have been essential to our work.

In addition to being a key part of our team, Mary is an award-winning author of 23 books that translate ocean science into stories that inspire children and adults.

Mary is beginning a new chapter in her life. She will retire from Friends of Casco Bay at the end of this week. Casco Bay is a better, more protected place thanks to Mary’s efforts. Mary helped launch our BayScaping program to keep lawn care chemicals out of the Bay. She also developed the Casco Bay Curriculum to make our water quality data accessible to educators and local schools.

“What I’m most proud of is our work to make Casco Bay a No Discharge Area,” says Mary. “I helped organize a public forum on cruise ship pollution in 2002.” The public outcry against ships dumping their waste into the Bay led to the first federal No Discharge Area designation in Maine.

“I never imagined I would work here for so long. It’s been the people—my work colleagues and all of our community members—who have inspired me and kept me excited about this work,” says Mary, reflecting on her tenure here.

Mary plans to stay busy. She is already working on her next book. She also looks forward to travels with her husband Arthur and to more time with her grandchildren. As Mary turns the page, all of us at Friends of Casco Bay wish her a happy retirement.

You may make a donation in Mary’s honor at: cascobay.org/emeritus-fund.