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Fireside Gardening: Winter BayScaping Tips

 

OK, there’s snow on the ground where you really want to be digging in the garden.

Instead, you can spend those carefree hours creating a beautiful BayScape in your mind!

You can incorporate ecological lawn care strategies into planning a new look for your yard, one that will require less maintenance and less expense than the outdated, overrated, “perfect” lawn of old.

 

Reflect on what you have now and design your ideal yard

Ask yourself, “What would I like my yard to do for me?” Are there areas of your lawn that demand more attention, maintenance, or chemicals than you would like? Are there views from inside your home that you could enhance by planting different vegetation?

Sketch a map of your yard and its features, preferably on graph paper. Include:

  • Buildings, driveway, walkways, and borders: neighboring yards, brook, street
  • Garden beds, water gardens, lawns, trees, and shrubs
  • Current uses, such as, sitting areas, playscapes, sports areas, gardening work area, or vistas for visual enjoyment

Highlight with yellow marker those areas of your lawn where you have turf challenges: areas that receive little sunlight, experience heavy foot traffic, or are poorly drained. Perhaps you should think of alternatives to grass such as patios of permeable paving stones or ground cover such as bunchberry, partridgeberry, or Canada mayflower. In wet areas, consider placing rain barrels, rain gardens, or bushes that can help prevent runoff.

Now create another map that has all the elements that you would like to have in your yard.

 

Ask the experts

Bring your ideal yard map to a nursery or garden supply store to learn more about native plants, low maintenance grass seed mixes, and ecological lawn care. The staff will love the company, and they’ll have more time to brainstorm with you. You will appreciate seeing some lush greenery.

 

Don’t pile snow on the lawn

This promotes snow mold disease in the grass.

 

DO put a BayScaper sign in your yard

Come in and pick up a free sign that announces to your neighbors that a green yard and a blue Bay will be the “in” colors for Spring! Request a BayScaper informational packet, a yard sign, or a presentation for a neighborhood association or garden club within the coastal Casco Bay area. Reach us at Friends of Casco Bay, 43 Slocum Drive, South Portland, keeper [at] cascobay [dot] org, or (207) 799-8574.

 

Download our BayScaping documents:

 

 

Interactive Casco Bay Health Index

Interactive Health Index

Friends of Casco Bay has developed the Casco Bay Health Index, an easy-to-interpret, visual guide to the health of the Bay. The Index allows us to integrate data from selected water quality parameters into a single value to compare and rank each site as Good, Fair, or Poor.

 

Now we have our new Interactive Health Index!

By clicking here, or the image below, you can see and interact with the Health Index. The Interactive Health Index will open in a new tab. By clicking on the dots you can see more about each sampling location.

Interactive Casco Bay Health Index

Overall, the water quality in Casco Bay is good, but there are instances when low oxygen, low pH, and murky waters are cause for concern. The 2016 Health Index reveals that over 31% of the sites are considered Poor, but more than 36% of the sites meet the Good standard.

The relative rankings were calculated by analyzing dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and pH data from shoreside sites that our volunteer Citizen Stewards monitored from 2012 to 2016. The values we chose to use were the 90th percentile of the dissolved oxygen percent saturation, the mean of the Secchi depth, and the mean of the diurnal differences in pH.

Commonly Asked Questions about the Casco Bay Health Index

 

What is the Casco Bay Health Index?

The Casco Bay Health Index was developed to provide a reliable, uncomplicated composite indicator of the Bay’s health, while also illustrating relative levels of eutrophication. The Index allows the scientifically-sound data collected through Friends of Casco Bay’s Water Quality Monitoring Program to be presented in a format that is easy to understand and to update.

 

What is the goal of the Index?

The goal of the Health Index is to present water quality information in an easy-to-understand visual format by condensing a large amount of existing data into a single score for each monitoring site. By summarizing a suite of environmental parameters into one score for each water quality monitoring site, each site can be ranked relative to one another, and trends—if there are any—can be more readily identified. This product, while quantitative in nature, should be considered a qualitative place to begin to determine environmental health. The sites are assigned colors—red, yellow or green, and are mapped to indicate the health of the waters around Casco Bay. Then we can ask: Which sites, based on the selected criteria, require a closer look? What is the relative condition of sites across a region? Are these conditions improving or degrading over time?

 

Where do the data for the Health Index come from?

The data used for the Health Index come from Friends of Casco Bay’s Citizen Stewards Water Quality Monitoring Program. Volunteers are well-trained using EPA-approved protocols developed by Friends of Casco Bay. They monitor specific sites and collect the data twice a day on 10 appointed Saturdays, between April and October. The Index incorporates the data for a 10-year span of time and can be updated annually by adding the most recent year’s data and eliminating the oldest. We can also look at the Index in five year increments to compare changes over time.

 

Which of the existing water quality parameters are most appropriate to use in the Index?

Friends of Casco Bay currently monitors five physical and chemical water quality parameters through our Citizen Stewards Water Quality Monitoring Program: temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen (DO), Secchi depth, and pH. Of these, three have been selected for use in the Health Index—DO, Secchi depth, and pH.

 

Dissolved oxygen (DO) DO is expressed as Percent Saturation in order to incorporate temperature and salinity. When water holds all the oxygen it can at a given temperature and salinity, it is said to be 100% saturated. At a given site during a given sampling event, temperature and salinity are measured, and DO is measured in milligrams per liter (mg/l) and then compared with the mg/l for 100% saturation in those conditions. We look at the distribution of the Percent Saturation data; we consider the lowest 10th percentile as the worse-case conditions for a particular site. That 10th percentile threshold, expressed as a Percent Saturation number, becomes a component of the Health Index for that site.

 

Simply averaging all the DO data for a site might obscure the full extent of any challenged conditions. For example, if a site is eutrophic, wherein nitrogen pollution levels have resulted in a huge algal bloom, there will be large swings in DO levels between the morning and the afternoon; simply looking at the mean would obscure these swings.

 

Secchi depth Secchi depth is a measure of water clarity. The Index uses a mean of the data to characterize each site. Sites with more organic matter and sediments in the water will be murkier and will exhibit reduced clarity, resulting in shallower (lower) Secchi depth measurements.

 

pH pH is a measure of the acidity of the water. pH data exhibit tremendous variability—diurnal differences through the day and seasonal shifts through the year. The Water Quality Monitoring Program requires that measurements be collected at 7:00 a.m. and then again at 3:00 p.m. on each monitoring day. This allows for a look at the change in conditions over the course of a day. The pH at a site is influenced heavily by respiration and photosynthesis. Respiration by algae, both seaweeds and phytoplankton, adds carbon dioxide to the water, which lowers pH. Measurements collected in the early morning, at 7:00 a.m., reflect the conditions found after a night of respiration and no photosynthesis. Photosynthesis of course requires sunlight and removes carbon dioxide from the water, raising pH. By afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., pH measurements will reflect the result of photosynthesis. The change between the morning and afternoon measurements, termed the diurnal swing, can be indicative of the magnitude of respiration and photosynthesis, and, indirectly, the amount of algae in the water. Since an excessive bloom of algae is one symptom of nitrogen pollution, a large diurnal swing in pH can serve as an indicator of excess nitrogen. A small change in pH is expected in a healthy, productive coastal system, but a relatively large swing can indicate a challenged site. We calculate the difference between the morning and afternoon readings, the diurnal swing, then amass that dataset to calculate the mean for the Health Index for that site.

 

What ranges are most appropriate for the component parameters?

For each of the three components of the Health Index, we have defined ranges, between which we would expect to see worse-case and best-case conditions. These ranges have been defined by looking not only at data for Casco Bay, but also data from other regions, state and federal guidelines, and relevant scientific literature.

 

Parameter: 0 point value 100 point value
Percent Saturation of Dissolved Oxygen 65% 95%
Secchi Depth (meters) 0.2 m 3.0 m
pH (diurnal swing) 0.4 0.1

 

How is the Health Index score calculated?

Each of the components calculated for a given site is plotted along the scale for that parameter. We use a natural logarithm formula to determine where on the scale of 0 to 100 a particular component falls. For example, a site’s calculated 10th percentile threshold for the Percent Saturation parameter will fall between 65% and 95% at a specific point on the scale between 0 and 100. The same is done for the Secchi depth component and the diurnal swing in pH. Now we have three numbers which fall between 0 and 100. These are added together and divided by 3 to obtain the mean, which is the Health Index score for that site.

 

How are the final Health Index scores presented?

After each site has a Health Index score associated with it, it can be classified as Good, Fair, and Poor, determined by score thresholds. A score of 85 and above is considered “Good”, a score of 70 to 84 is “Fair”, and anything below 70 falls into the “Poor” category.

 

What is eutrophication?

Eutrophication occurs when too many nutrients (and occasionally other factors) fuel explosive plant growth. While nitrogen is an essential nutrient in marine systems, too much nitrogen can become a pollutant when it triggers excessive algal growth. This growth can result in low DO measurements, shallow Secchi depth readings, and wide variations in pH.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Portland Water District Staff on Baykeeper Boat

A Major Step Toward a Cleaner Casco Bay

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Portland Water District Staff on Baykeeper BoatExcess nitrogen in our coastal waters can lead to harmful algal blooms, slime-covered coves, and more acidic conditions, all of which stress our coastal critters. Where does it come from? Sewage, animal waste, fertilizers, rainwater, snowmelt, and air pollution.

What we flush down the toilets of 65,000 Portland residents, as well as what is flushed through visitor and commercial facilities, passes through the sewage treatment plant that the Portland Water District manages. That treated effluent is a major source of excess nitrogen to Casco Bay.

With a $12 million upgrade to the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility, the Portland Water District aims to reduce nitrogen in effluent water by 20-40% within five years. This effort may prevent 500 to 1,000 pounds of nitrogen from getting into Casco Bay each day.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Scott Firmin, Portland Water District’s Director of Wastewater Services, worked diligently for nearly a year on an agreement to reduce nitrogen in the treated wastewater from the East End wastewater treatment plant. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection incorporated their recommendations into a five-year wastewater discharge permit it recently issued for the East End facility.

The Portland Water District plans to:

  • Work toward major reductions in nitrogen in the treated wastewater it releases into Casco Bay
  • Test nitrogen levels in its effluent weekly to measure progress toward meeting the goal of a 20-40% reduction within five years
  • Collaborate with the City of Portland and other stakeholders in a coordinated effort to reduce nitrogen pollution from multiple sources

“We applaud the Portland Water District for its forward-thinking approach that may serve as a model for other Maine communities,” says Ivy. “But we still need folks to pick up pet wastes and stop using fertilizers. Those individual efforts help keep nitrogen pollution from getting into Casco Bay. What each of us does to help the Bay does make a difference!”

MOCA Partners

MOCA is on the Move

With increasing research showing that coastal acidification is a threat to Casco Bay, here’s what we’re doing about it.

The all-volunteer Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) has held two symposia, organized working groups, and met with coastal legislators, all in its first year.

Why do scientists and sea farmers worry about acidifying seawater? Studies by researcher Dr. Mark Green and oyster grower Bill Mook have found that increasing the acidity of seawater can stress sea creatures such as clams, oysters, and mussels. Some shellfish farmers in Maine have already begun storing seawater to use during times when stormwater runoff makes the water unsafe for developing oysters.

Climate researchers have found that the ocean absorbs over 25% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by smokestacks and tailpipes. This is called ocean acidification. In addition, carbon dioxide ends up in coastal waters from nitrogen pollution from fertilizers, pet wastes, stormwater runoff, and sewage discharges. This nitrogen overdose stimulates a population explosion of tiny phytoplankton. When these plants die and decay in bays and coves, bacteria consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide. This creates even more acidic conditions for coastal critters. This is called coastal acidification.

Dr. Mark Green of St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, is a leading researcher on the impact of coastal acidification on clams. He has been testing how baby clams respond to mud from clam flats along our coast, including Casco Bay. He calls clams the “canaries in the coal mine.” Nitrogen runoff, he asserts, is hampering the ability of clams and oysters to build and maintain their shells. Dr. Green found that clam spat and baby clams simply dissolve at levels of acidity found in some parts of Casco Bay today. He calls this unfortunate condition “death by dissolution.”

Dr. Green’s experiments in the lab inspired us to investigate conditions in Casco Bay. In 2011, we sampled the pH (acidity) of the mud on about 30 clam flats around Casco Bay. In 2012 and 3013, we returned to one of those clam flats to monitor conditions every two weeks across three seasons and varied tide cycles to get a better understanding of how natural fluctuations impacted pH. We also put baby clams (spat) into “clam condos” into a clam flat in Freeport, protected from green clams by screens. After one week and two weeks in the mud, we found significant pitting in their shells, indicating that the shells were dissolving.

Coastal Acidification is one more stressor for shellfish species that already are challenged by other climate change impacts, such as predation by gluttonous milky ribbon worms and green crabs which flourish in warming waters. Red tides or other harmful algal blooms may close clam flats to shellfish harvesting for weeks or months each year. The density and duration of these harmful bloom events may be exacerbated by nitrogen runoff, which provides the nutrients to nourish the red tide organisms.

 

What are we doing about coastal acidification?

 

The good news is that we can do something to fight back against coastal acidification caused by nitrogen pollution. Says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, “It’s wonderful to work with so many scientists, harvesters, and policy makers who understand this issue and are working on it before coastal acidification becomes insurmountable.”

 

One way is to find out what we know and what we need to know about coastal and ocean acidification. Friends of Casco Bay and others realized we need a concerted effort to fight the effects of ocean and coastal acidification. In 2014, we participated in the Maine Ocean Acidification Study Commission, which issued a report to the Legislature in January 2015, recommending many actions to confront this threat to our fisheries and marine ecology in general, including establishing an on-going ocean and coastal acidification council.

 

Friends of Casco Bay worked with the Island Institute and University of Maine/Maine Sea Grant to create the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA). MOCA volunteers partnership seek to:

  1. Implement recommendations of the Ocean Acidification Study Commission; and
  2. Coordinate the work of governmental agencies, private organizations, and citizens who are studying and implementing means to reduce the impacts of or help adapt to ocean and coastal acidification.

Here are some highlights of MOCA:

March 14, 2016

MOCA held its first meeting, attended by more than 30 scientists, policy makers, and harvesters.

 

June 29, 2016

MOCA hosted a day-long Ocean Acidification Symposium, attended by 110 people, including some of the state’s top researchers and policy makers. Scientists shared their field experiment data and compared notes.

 

November 16, 2016

MOCA hosted a second symposium focused on remediation and policy. More than 50 people gathered at the State House in Augusta to discuss the possibility of developing state/ federal water quality criteria related to coastal acidification. Ivy discussed how we might use existing regulatory tools to reduce nitrogen pollution that exacerbates coastal acidification. The participants formed subcommittees to create an action plan on next steps for confronting ocean acidification through research and legislation.

 

What’s next?

  • Education Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca is working with the MOCA Policy Subcommittee to help organize two MOCA symposia in 2017. They will educate interested citizens and decision makers on cutting-edge science and local and state policies that may be implemented to combat acidification
  • Uniform data collection is the goal of Friends of Casco Bay Research Associate Mike Doan and more than a dozen other scientists on the MOCA Monitoring Subcommittee. They will work together to coordinate and standardize monitoring equipment and procedures on data collection on acidification. This uniformity will provide better understanding of nitrogen inputs into coastal waters.

 

What can you do about coastal acidification?

  • Cut down or eliminate fertilizers on lawns, gardens, and farms.
  • Lobby for and support a town ordinance to limit the use of nitrogen-rich fertilizers.
  • Reduce rainwater runoff and improve sewage treatment.
  • Make sure septic systems are doing their job.
  • Join and/or volunteer with organizations to monitor coastal waters and educate the public.
  • Reduce carbon emissions by driving less or driving a less polluting vehicle
  • Support clean energy production such as solar and wind power
  • Support clean energy policies such as RGGI and the Clean Power Plan
Cathy L. Ramsdell, CPA, CGMA, Executive Director

Growing green lawns in Portland that keep Casco Bay blue

Cathy L. Ramsdell, CPA, CGMA, Executive DirectorAfter serving for 8 months on Portland’s Pesticide Task Force, Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell is hopeful that Maine’s largest city ultimately will pass an ordinance to restrict pesticide use. Cathy testified on the issue a meeting of the City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee on June 21. You can read our testimony which lists the many reasons that Friends of Casco Bay supports the draft Pesticide Ordinance crafted by the Portland Pesticide and Fertilizer Task Force here.

The 12-member task force consisted of a diverse set of stakeholders, including concerned citizens, lawn care professionals, and scientists. While meetings were occasionally tension-filled, the task force came out in support of an ordinance that bans the use of pesticides, both synthetic and organic, on lawns, patios, and driveways, and within 75 feet of water. The draft ordinance would also have Portland form an advisory committee to develop data on pesticide use.

“The draft ordinance is a good start—it doesn’t solve every problem associated with pesticides, but it does takes a good bite out of the apple,” says Cathy.

Stormwater testing by Friends of Casco Bay found pesticides flowing into the Bay in more than a dozen locations. This led to our outreach effort: BayScaping. After nearly two decades of education to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, Maine homeowners still use a large amount of pesticides. That is why we became involved in “grassroots efforts” with local communities to restrict the use of lawn chemicals.

In task force meetings, Cathy saw her role as one of finding common ground between those who wanted outright prohibitions on all pesticide use and applicators who did not want any new restrictions.

“In times like these, it would be easy to be an obstructionist and stop any forward movement,” said Cathy. “For the task force to do its job, though, we had to find common ground. Everyone on the committee agreed that we need to keep these chemicals out of the Bay. The recommended ordinance is a compromise position based on the idea that aesthetic pesticide use to make our lawns look pretty is not the best use of these toxic chemicals, given the risk to our health and the health of the Bay.”

The City Council Sustainability and Transportation Committee now takes up the draft ordinance. The committee will discuss the issue at a workshop on June 26 at 5:30 at City Hall.

You can see the draft ordinance here: https://cascobay.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Pesticide-and-Fertilizer-TF-Report-_-Ordinance.1.pdf

Pile of expired flares

A bill with flair makes its way through the Maine Legislature

Pile of expired flares

Last summer, Representative Jay McCreight* received a question from a local lobsterman about what to do with a barn full of expired marine flares or “Visual Distress Signals.” She called Friends of Casco Bay to ask about the potential environmental impacts from flares. Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca began looking into the issue, with the help of University of New England student interns Iliana Flefel and Grayson Szczepaniak.

The United States Coast Guard requires marine vessels greater than 16 feet in length to carry at least three flares to use in the event of an emergency. These emergency flares expire within 42 months from date of manufacture and must be replaced.

This has led mariners to stockpile expired flares, often for years, trying to figure out how to get rid of them. Right now, there are no good options for Maine boaters to dispose of expired flares, which can still be explosive. Boaters have tried soaking expired flares in a bucket of water, shooting off flares at sea (especially on the Fourth of July), or throwing them in the trash. None of these practices are acceptable because pyrotechnic flares are classified as “hazardous wastes.”

Flares contain toxic chemicals that may harm human and marine life. Potassium perchlorate interferes with thyroid function, which regulates a person’s metabolism, including heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Strontium may create toxic gases when burned. Sulfur has been shown to contribute to more acidic conditions in the ocean.

We learned that the only safe way to dispose of expired flares is by incineration at high temperature. Fortunately, the State Fire Marshall’s office has an EPA-approved mobile incinerator that can be used for this purpose, which was originally purchased to incinerate fireworks.

To authorize the State Fire Marshall’s office to design a program to collect and incinerate expired flares, Representative McCreight has introduced a bill to the 128th Maine Legislature: LD 252 An Act To Improve Safety in the Disposal of Expired Flares.

On March 13, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca testified before the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety in support of the bill.

Should LD 252 continue to move through the legislative process, we may suggest you contact your legislators to support the bill.

 

* The State Representative for District 51, which includes Harpswell, West Bath, and part of Brunswick

Barry Sheff, Board Member Friends of Casco Bay

Community Connection: Barry Sheff

Barry Sheff, Board Member Friends of Casco Bay
Barry Sheff, Board Member Friends of Casco Bay Photo credit: Kevin Morris

Friends of Casco Bay’s Board members are key partners in protecting Casco Bay.
Here’s how, in their own words:

Barry Sheff: “I drive a Prius and explain to the kids why it’s not a truck.”

Barry is an engineer with Woodard & Curran. “I like to solve problems. That’s what I like about Friends of Casco Bay. It’s trying to prevent and solve problems on the Bay. The work they are doing to support pesticide bans is hugely important to help municipalities. We need more catch basin stenciling. It’s education, education, education, but cities shouldn’t be relying on Friends to do it all. Doing education is part of a municipal obligation under the Clean Water Act.

You can see how other community members are partnering with us to protect the Bay on our Community Connection page.

Derek Pelletier, Board Member Friends of Casco Bay

Community Connection: Derek Pelletier

Derek Pelletier, Board Member Friends of Casco Bay
Derek Pelletier, Board Member Friends of Casco Bay

Friends of Casco Bay’s Board members are key partners in protecting Casco Bay. Here’s how, in their own words:

Derek Pelletier: “We don’t preach about what you can do. We prefer to lead by example.

Derek is an aquatic ecologist, specializing in water quality issues. We first met Derek when he offered to help enter water quality data for Friends of Casco Bay more than a decade ago.

Derek’s scientific knowledge informs his approach to caring for his local environment.“When I started in grad school, l liked thinking about systems on a watershed basis, taking the ‘downstream’ view. My background in whole systems thinking informs my awareness that “It all ends up in the ocean.’”

Derek and his wife Maryann have shared that understanding with their children Levi and Charlotte. They all bike everywhere from their Deering neighborhood in Portland. They do own a car, but even in rain or snow, Derek rarely drives it to Board meetings.

You can see how other community members are partnering with us to protect the Bay on our Community Connection page.

Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen Photo credit: Dave Dostie

Did we Nab Nitrogen? We sure did!

Mike Doan at Friends of Casco Bay’s Annual Members Meeting. Photo credit: Kevin Morris.
Mike Doan at Friends of Casco Bay’s Annual Members Meeting. Photo credit: Kevin Morris.

On January 24, 2017, Research Associate Mike Doan stood before an audience of volunteers and supporters at Friends of Casco Bay’s Annual Members Meeting. He reminded them, “A year ago at this volunteer celebration, we proposed the idea of Nabbing Nitrogen, to get people involved in water quality monitoring on one day, at one moment in time. If we’d recruited 50 volunteers, we would have considered it a success. More than 170 people signed up to volunteer to sample for nitrogen!”

Volunteers lined docks and other access points to Nab Nitrogen on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Photo credit Dave Dostie.
Volunteers lined docks and other access points to Nab Nitrogen on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Photo credit Dave Dostie.

Our Nabbing Nitrogen event became a flash mob, where volunteers scooped up jars of seawater at precisely 10:10 a.m. on July 10, 2016. The weather was awful, so we had to cancel plans for boaters to sample out on the water. Though limited to land-based sites, volunteers would not be deterred. They lined the shoreline of Portland and South Portland on both sides of the Fore River. Mike championed, “It was the volunteers and their enthusiasm and energy, despite the rain, that made the event such a success.”

Lindsay Wold and Chaz Wilcoxen with their Nabbing Nitrogen sample
Lindsay Wold and Chaz Wilcoxen with their Nabbing Nitrogen sample

On that particular morning, we experienced a heavy rain that followed a long dry spell. This made for ideal conditions for collecting data on a storm event. We collected and analyzed 90 samples, which Mike used to construct a map of nitrogen levels around Portland Harbor at this one point in time. He wasn’t surprised to find that nitrogen levels were higher than normal.

Why do we worry about too much nitrogen in Casco Bay?
Nitrogen is an essential plant nutrient, critical for growing. In the ocean, nitrogen nurtures plant growth, from single-celled phytoplankton to large seaweeds. But too much nitrogen triggers excessive algae growth that can turn the Bay green. When the plants die, decomposing bacteria remove the oxygen from the water and release carbon dioxide, making the water more acidic.

Over the last 100 years, the amount of nitrogen available for plant growth has more than doubled, thanks to the invention of commercial fertilizers and the increase in the burning of fossil fuels. Human sewage, air pollution, and rainwater washing fertilizers and animal wastes off yards and farms add excess nitrogen to our coastal waters.

Mike said, “Do you remember last summer, when we saw large mats of green algae in Back Cove in Portland and Mill Cove in South Portland? Those carpets of ‘green slime’ smothered anything trying to live underneath them. In South Portland, we also found that the mud beneath the algal mats was highly acidic.”

Too much nitrogen in the water can impact the nursery of the sea. “Phytoplankton and seaweeds can make the water murky, limiting sunlight to eelgrass,” explained Mike. “We are fortunate that Casco Bay has a lot of eelgrass. Eelgrass is our ‘rain forest.’ It serves a number of purposes: it holds sediments in place, helping to prevent erosion, dampens wave action, which protects the shoreline, and most importantly, provides hiding places for juvenile marine animals.”

Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen Photo credit: Dave Dostie
Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen
Photo credit: Dave Dostie

We will meet with sewage treatment plant operators and stormwater managers to discuss what all the data means.

Already, with the help of our volunteers and great media coverage of our event, people know that there is a lot we each can do to reduce the flow of nitrogen into the Bay. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca told the audience at our Annual Meeting that they can help by:

  • Not using fertilizer on their yards and practicing BayScaping to minimize the need for lawn chemicals
  • Keep rainwater from running off our driveways and yards
  • Replacing lawns with rain gardens or permeable pavement
  • Support efforts by local municipalities to reduce nitrogen-laden sewage overflows into the Bay
  • Support our work with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to set responsible limits on nitrogen discharges into coastal waters
Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen
Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen
Photo credit: Dave Dostie

WMTW Meteorologist Sarah Long was one of the many volunteers that participated in this sampling event. You can see her coverage of the event here: http://www.wmtw.com/article/citizen-scientists-help-keep-casco-bay-healthy/8972719.

 

Joan Benoit Samuelson, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member

Community Connection: Joan Benoit Samuelson

Joan Benoit Samuelson, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member
Joan Benoit Samuelson, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member

Friends of Casco Bay’s Board members are key partners in protecting Casco Bay.
Here’s how, in their own words:

Joan Benoit Samuelson:Having grown up in Cape Elizabeth near Casino Beach, spending many a summer on Cliff Island, and now living in Freeport with tidal frontage, I know that Casco Bay is changing. There is a lot of tangible evidence of climate change—an influx of invasive species, the decline of indigenous species, whether it’s due to green crabs or algae blooms caused by increased nitrogen.”

“Whatever the cause, can all pull an oar and do something to improve conditions in Casco Bay. We can make daily small changes, such as doing BayScaping, lawn care without using pesticides and fertilizers, and keeping stormwater from running off our yards and spaces.”

“It’s important to protect this resource. This place is a jewel. I realized early on that Casco Bay is connected to the world’s oceans when I threw a note in a bottle off Casino Beach (Cape Elizabeth), and it was picked up by a schoolteacher in England.”

“It’s a beautiful resource we all need to protect. Time and tide wait for no man—or woman. The time is now to take action.”

You can see how other community members are partnering with us to protect the Bay on our Community Connection page.