Friends of Casco Bay’s Board members are key partners in protecting Casco Bay.
Here’s how, in their own words:
Tollef Olson: “Sea farming has all the benefits with none of the detriments.”
After stints as a treasure hunter, urchin diver, restauranteur, and sea captain, Tollef launched Bangs Island Mussels in Casco Bay in 1997. His newest venture is raising kelp. Tollef says that responsible aquaculture is good for the ocean. “Shellfish and seaweeds are ecologically beneficial. They recycle the fertilizers that come down the hill from lawns and golf courses. Seaweed takes up the nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon dioxide, release spores that feed phytoplankton and shellfish, and supply food for humans.”
You can see how other community members are partnering with us to protect the Bay on our Community Connection page.
Too much nitrogen can turn Casco Bay from a healthy blue to an unhealthly green.
On a rainy July 10, at precisely 10:10 a.m., 97 volunteers for Friends of Casco Bay hung out over docks or trudged through mud to collect jars of seawater. The analysis of their samples from sites along the Fore River in Portland and South Portland will increase our understanding of nitrogen levels in Portland Harbor. When we receive the lab results, our science staff will construct a map to show nitrogen concentrations at various sites around the harbor.
Already, these efforts have accomplished one of the main goals of the project: to explain to the public that excess nitrogen is one of the factors responsible for turning our mudflats an unhealthy green. All living things need nitrogen to grow, but an overdose can trigger excessive growth of nuisance algae, reduce water clarity, and lower oxygen levels. Sources of excess nitrogen in coastal waters include sewage, pet wastes, decaying plants and animals, and burning fossil fuels.
We partnered with Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the City of South Portland, and we raised funding for the project from Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, RBC Blue Water Project, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Bowdoin College Common Good Grant, and our generous members.
Many people get excited about bringing home a new electronic gizmo, like a smartphone, a hoverboard, or a drone. Acquiring one of these gadgets couldn’t match the excitement here when UPS recently delivered a new, high-tech, scientific instrument to Friends of Casco Bay.
Research Associate Mike Doan gleefully unwrapped our new water quality monitoring tool— a “partial pressure CO2 sensor”—an electronic device that can measure carbon dioxide in seawater.
This new sensor has been deployed next to our data sonde which measures pH (acidity), salinity, temperature, chlorophyll, and oxygen. Both instruments will collect data hourly, year-round, for decades to come. The carbon dioxide data, in conjunction with pH readings, will help us better understand the dynamics of coastal acidification here in Casco Bay.
Our water quality monitoring program was created over 25 years ago to collect data on the health of Casco Bay waters, with transects across the Bay by staff scientists monthly, and data collected by citizen scientists at dozens of shoreside sites on ten selected Saturdays. Those valuable data provide snapshots of the health of the Bay and alert us to trouble spots.
With climate change influencing weather and waters around the world, we felt the need for a stream of data that would allow us to ask deeper questions. With our new tools, we are now able to collect more frequent, real-time data that will help to identify trends in the chemistry of Casco Bay. Having more data on nitrogen and carbon dioxide, both of which impact the acidity of our coastal waters, will aid not only our advocacy and education, but also the work of other scientists, government officials, and activists working to protect Casco Bay.
We chose to anchor our first comprehensive, continuous monitoring station in Yarmouth. We are thinking of naming this new fixture in the bay Kolpos, which is Greek for bay. Purchase of this high-tech addition to our water quality monitoring program was made possible by Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the Horizon Foundation, and the generous support of our members. As funding allows, we will place additional stations in Portland Harbor at the western end of the Bay and Harpswell in the eastern end.
And, as always, we will continue to rely on the data that our staff and volunteers collect, as we have since our water quality monitoring program began more than 25 years ago.
Since Ivy Frignoca became Casco Baykeeper in January, she has taken full advantage of Friends of Casco Bay’s most visible asset: our Baykeeper boat, the Joseph E. Payne. It has become her platform to advocate to stop raw sewage from flowing into the Bay, plan for oil spill readiness, consider various dredging issues in Portland Harbor, renew efforts to improve water quality in the New Meadows River embayment, and confront coastal and ocean acidification.
In her first week on the job, Ivy joined our science staff on a 75-mile circuit around the Bay, helping to sample water quality. In the months since, she has invited many of our partners aboard the Baykeeper boat to examine issues from a different perspective. As Ivy says, “Many of our concerns are best understood from the water.”
Oil spills: Ivy recognized immediately that oil spill response would be one of her top priorities. “Even though there has not been a major oil spill since the Julie N in 1996, it’s important that we remain prepared as a community.”
Friends of Casco Bay will be participating in an oil spill response “table top exercise” in September with the US Coast Guard and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Oil Spill Response Team, and in a full scale exercise in 2017.
Ivy, Peter Milholland (who coordinates volunteers who assist in the event of a spill), and Maine DEP staff toured the harbor to identify sensitive wetlands and beaches on islands that are most likely to be affected by a spill. “In this way, we can gather relevant information and be prepared to assist the Coast Guard and clean-up experts if a spill does occur, by alerting them about ecologically sensitive areas that we should try to protect.”
Toxic pollution around the wharves: Early industries along the Fore River dumped their waste into Portland Harbor. Polluted rainwater still flows into the harbor from combined sewer pipes along Commercial Street. Sediments, which may contain toxins that harm marine life, are carried downstream by stormwater and have silted in many of the berthing spaces between Portland’s wharves. At low tide, mud appears around many of the piers. Wharf owners must dredge to restore the working waterfront, but what should they do with these toxic sediments?
One option is to bury them in a deep, secure hole in the Fore River, an approach called Confined Aquatic Disposal cell or CAD cell.
Sewage overflows: While the City of Portland has been working to reduce sewage overflows elsewhere in the city, there are no plans currently to remove the Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) along Commercial Street. It’s possible that after being dredged, the wharves could again become silted from stormwater debris.
So what is the solution? Talking, for a start. The Baykeeper, along with Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, escorted Portland City Manager Jon Jennings and staff members from Portland’s Water Resources Division and Portland Water District on a waterside tour of CSOs and commercial piers. The boat trip marked the start of a new era of integrated planning.
“Working together to eliminate CSOs, clear out toxic sediments, and ensure best use of the city’s wastewater treatment system will improve the health of the Bay, upgrade the working waterfront for mariners, and eliminate smelly discharges for tourists walking along the waterfront. The goal is to help different sectors of City government develop more unified solutions that make the most sense financially and, more importantly, improve the health of the Bay.”
Eastern Casco Bay: In June, Ivy accompanied Brunswick Marine Resources Officer Dan Devereaux on the Brunswick police boat to consider ways to improve water quality in the eastern end of the Bay. Two causeways, built to connect Brunswick and West Bath, have restricted tidal flow in the upper regions of the New Meadows River so that they are no long free-flowing, creating saltwater lagoons known locally as the “Lakes.” The lack of tidal exchange results in massive jellyfish and algae blooms, extremely low oxygen levels in summer, and occasional fish kills. The bottom is coated with a layer of black, anoxic mud which makes the water devoid of oxygen during much of the summer.
Dan and Ivy discussed ways to revitalize the dormant New Meadows Watershed Partnership to find a solution that might be restorative, fair, and enduring. The New Meadows area is being looked at as a site for aquaculture ventures, while it is becoming increasingly polluted.
Ivy also has brought together interested parties to discuss aquaculture in the intertidal flats. Friends of Casco Bay, in conjunction with Manomet, organized a workshop for resource managers, state and local officials, clammers, and residents to explain state law regarding siting of aquaculture operations in the intertidal zone.
Baykeeping by land
Of course, Ivy has attended and organized dozens of other meetings on land. Three months into her job, Ivy, along with Susie Arnold of the Island Institute and Esperanza Stancioff of Maine Sea Grant, convened the first meeting of the Maine Ocean & Coastal Acidification (MOCA) Partnership to respond to one of the most pernicious but least understood effects of climate change: acidifying ocean and coastal waters. Three months later, they helped organize and host more than 100 scientists, graduate students, and policy makers at a day-long symposium. They invited 15 speakers to share the most recent data and to lay the groundwork for constructing an action plan for dealing with coastal and ocean acidification.
In her first 7 months on the job, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca has jumped in with both feet to champion many initiatives, continuing the fine tradition of collaborative problem-solving established by Friends of Casco Bay over a quarter century ago.
Thank you to everyone who made our Nabbing Nitrogen day a success!
We had 97 dedicated volunteers come out and 90 Nitrogen samples were collected!
To all of our Nabbing Nitrogen volunteers—THANK YOU for braving the chilly rain to sample with us. We were amazed by your enthusiasm and dedication.
We want to also thank the 55 boaters, kayakers, canoers, and paddleboarders who planned on Nabbing Nitrogen with us—we are sorry that the weather did not cooperate with us. The fog, mist, winds, and early morning rain made it unsafe to ask dozens of boaters and kayakers to cross the busy harbor. It was better to be safe than sorry.
You can see photos from the event on our Facebook Page. Thank you to our photographers Dave Dostie and Sonny McAlpin for capturing the day.
For those who signed up to be Nabbers: Since this is our first time completing this event, we would appreciate any feedback you have on the effort. If you signed up for the event, whether or not you participated, you can fill out our feedback form below or click here to open it in a new window. You can also email Sarah at slyman [at] cascobay [dot] org with any feedback you have.
Thank you to the businesses and organizations that allowed us to use their private access points on the water or sampled themselves: Centerboard Yacht Club, Chandler’s Wharf, DiMillo’s Restaurant and Marina, Gowen’s Marine, Maine State Pier, Portland Company, Portland Harbor Master, Portland Water District, Portland Yacht Services, South Port Marina, Sprague Energy, Sunset Marina, the U.S. Coast Guard, Union Wharf, and Waynflete.
Thank you to Mill Creek Hannaford and Gulf of Maine Research Institute for allowing us to use their parking lots as coordination sites. Thank you to Andy’s Old Port Pub for hosting our debriefing.
Our intern, Joshua Clukey, was essential in the success of this event. Thank you, Josh, for your tireless efforts.
Our Nabbing Nitrogen effort is a partnership between Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the City of South Portland.
This project has been funded in part by Davis Conservation Foundation, Birch Cove Fund at Maine Community Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Seth Sprague Educational and Charitable Foundation, RBC Blue Water Project, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the Bowdoin College Common Good Grant, and other generous supporters.
Sign up has been closed. We invite you to fill out our volunteer application to learn about our other volunteer opportunities and get put on our email list for the specific volunteer opportunities you are interested in.
Why are we picking on Nitrogen?
Too much nitrogen can turn Casco Bay from a healthy blue to a slimy green. All living things need nitrogen to grow, but an overdose can trigger excessive growth of nuisance algae, reduce water clarity, and lower oxygen levels. This process also releases carbon dioxide, creating acidic conditions that can make it harder for clams and mussels to build and maintain their shells.
By nabbing nitrogen with us, you will help us map nitrogen levels in the Fore River and Portland Harbor—one of the most heavily populated regions in the state. This may allow us to identify problem areas and explore sources of pollution. This effort will provide the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with data needed to ground truth its nitrogen model, used to predict nitrogen sources and distribution in this region. Your effort will help our advocacy efforts to establish a limit on how much nitrogen may be discharged into coastal waters.
Where does nitrogen pollution come from?
Excess nitrogen comes into Casco Bay from three different sources, almost in equal proportion—from sewage, from stormwater runoff, and from air pollution (see pie chart). Water quality sampling by Friends of Casco Bay has shown that nitrogen pollution is most severe in areas that are close to shore, near river mouths, at sewer overflow pipes, and other locations where stormwater runoff reaches the Bay. That is why we have created this event to “Nab Nitrogen.”
Nitrogen is contained in human, pet, and animals wastes, in decaying plants and animals, and is released during the combustion of fossil fuels. Sewage discharges from wastewater treatment plants, combined sewer overflows, and leaky septic systems add nitrogen from human waste. Stormwater runoff from land flushes oil and dirt from paved surfaces, pet wastes, and fertilizers from lawns, farms, parks, golf courses, into the ocean. Nitrogen also descends from tailpipes and smokestacks, chimneys, and power plants.
Why at this date and time?
Sampling on an outgoing tide is the best time to measure the influence of land-based sources of nitrogen pollution to Casco Bay. We hope 130 community members, especially sea kayakers and boaters, will volunteer and sample simultaneously at 10:10 a.m., just before low tide. These samples will help us create a snapshot of nitrogen concentrations in the Fore River and Portland Harbor, allowing us to better understand land-based sources of nitrogen pollution in this region of Casco Bay.
How many sites can I sample?
I can’t sample at 10:10 a.m. on July 10. How can I participate?
Nitrogen Nabbing can be done only at the specified time so that samples are collected simultaneously, to help us create the snapshot. If you want to help out with preparation in the weeks prior to the sampling event, there are other ways for you to be involved. Emailslyman [at] cascobay [dot] org to let us know you are interested.
Why are you sampling only in the Fore River and Portland Harbor?
The Maine DEP is refining a model on nitrogen inputs into our coastal waters and needs more data in the Fore River and Portland Harbor. By nabbing nitrogen, you are helping ground truth this model while helping cities, like Portland and South Portland, identify sources of nitrogen moving into Casco Bay.
While this initial effort on July 10 will take place only in Portland and South Portland, we hope to nab nitrogen in the future, in other communities around Casco Bay.
What ifweather is an issue?
In case of dangerous weather, you will be asked to monitor our website www.cascobay.org for any notifications regarding weather conditions. Please provide us with a cell phone number that we can text to reach you. Weather contingencies include the following:
• If there is a small craft advisory, we will nab only by land and not by sea.
• If heavy weather is predicted or approaching (hurricane, thunderstorms), we will reschedule the effort to July 24 from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (on that day sampling will take place at 8:24 a.m. due to the difference in tides).
What if I have some other issue that arises on July 10?
Please call our office at (207) 799-8574 in the event that you need any help with any contingencies that may arise.
When will we see the results, the snapshot of nitrogen levels in Portland Harbor on July 10?
The samples will be frozen and sent to a laboratory for analysis. After we receive the results, we will construct a map, plotting the various levels of nitrogen at sites around the harbor. We expect to be able to share the results this fall.
What can I do to prevent nitrogen pollution?
Don’t use fertilizers on your lawn.
Plant or retain bushes and trees to keep water from running off your property and into waterways. Go to cascobay.org/bayscaping for more tips on how to grow a green yard to keep Casco Bay blue.
Conserve energy, both in terms of electrical usage and gasoline consumption decreases the nitrogen oxides that lead to acid rain formation.
Buy local—locally produced goods have not been transported significant distances, reducing gas consumption and refrigeration during transportation, which also decreases nitrogen emissions.
Eat organic foods. Because they are not treated with commercial fertilizers, further decreasing nitrogen pollution.
Maintain your septic system by having an annual inspection of the tank and having regular pump outs by a licensed professional.
Empty your boat’s holding tank at a pumpout facility at your marina or through Friends of Casco Bay’s mobile pumpout service.
Burn less oil, wood, and coal to reduce pollution from smokestacks.
Keep your car tuned up to reduce pollution from tailpipes.
This effort is a partnership between Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the City of South Portland.
This project has been funded in part by Davis Conservation Foundation, Birch Cove Fund at Maine Community Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Seth Sprague Educational and Charitable Foundation, RBC Blue Water Project, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the Bowdoin College Common Good Grant, and other generous supporters. You can support this effort by making a donation here.
Ivy Frignoca has been on board for only a few months, and it’s already hard to recall when she wasn’t involved in Friends of Casco Bay. On a daily basis, she provides advice on permits and legislation, meets with our colleagues and friends, and exchanges the latest waterfront news with the rest of our staff.
Ivy’s professional history includes teaching marine and environmental science, advocating to protect Lake Champlain, and working on policies to protect and promote Vermont state parks and forests. Later, she went to law school to have an even greater impact advocating for the natural world.
As Senior Attorney with Conservation Law Foundation, where she first collaborated with Friends of Casco Bay, she specialized in Oceans, Clean Water, and Clean Air cases.
Now, Ivy is a partner and colleague in so many more ways. Ivy has updated coastal legislators of the Marine Caucus on issues we are tackling, helped defeat a bad bill that would have weakened Maine’s Oil Spill Prevention Law, submitted testimony on state and federal issues on behalf of Friends of Casco Bay, and has been interviewed by radio, TV, and print reporters. Ivy helped create the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership to continue the work of the Maine Ocean Acidification Study Commission. Although Ivy has long enjoyed spending time in and on the water, she now “feels an even stronger connection to Casco Bay, as its Baykeeper.”
Sometimes as I idle at yet another stop light, I wonder how charming 19th century Portland must have been. Then I think about the remnants from Portland’s industrial past that we are still cleaning up.
From 1852 to 1965, the Portland Gas Light Company, located on the waterfront in the city’s West End, turned coal into gas to light street lamps and heat homes around the region. The process created by-products of coke, coal tar, creosote, sulfur, and ammonia. The stench of rotten eggs permeated the air.
In 1965, an interstate natural gas pipeline arrived in Portland, replacing the need for local coal gasification. The plant closed a year later, and Northern Utilities was formed from the merger of Portland Gas and the Lewiston Gas Light Company. In 2008, the company was acquired by Unitil, which provides electric and gas distribution services throughout New England.
Unitil inherited the by-products of the coal gas era: contaminated soil, mounds of wood chips caked in coal tar, and liquid coal tar seeping into the Fore River from underground. Unitil also inherited the responsibility of cleaning up the site. Unitil and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) came up with a remediation plan that involved excavating contaminated soil, gravel, and wood chips, capping the seepage area, and building a watertight wall around the seaward end of the property.
In mid-March, I walked the Unitil site with the engineer who led the remediation efforts. I reviewed the remediation plans and saw the clean, sheen-free water in the Fore River. I walked along the riprap and saw the cap that prevents further oil products from reaching the water. All of the contaminated wood chips have been removed, and the soils have tested clean.
In December, DEP awarded Unitil a certificate of completion, certifying that the company had succeeded in cleaning up an environmental mess that it inherited from past land use.
I think about other waterfront owners who are facing a dilemma not unlike Unitil’s situation. Portland’s private wharf owners also may have to remove contaminated material not of their making, if they choose to dredge around their piers and wharves. Even though they didn’t dump the sediments under their wharves, Portland’s private wharf owners have to pay to remove the toxic sediments. The cost of relocating contaminated dredge spoils can be prohibitive. Leaving toxic mud where it lies is bad for the lobsters, crabs, and clams that dwell beneath the wharves—and bad for the working waterfront. Disposing of contaminated spoils elsewhere makes sense only if this will create better environmental conditions than we now have. We are working with city officials and waterfront business owners to find a feasible solution.
Stop by our office on the campus of Southern Maine Community College, South Portland, and get a yard sign (like the one above), soil test kit, and information on how to have a green lawn and a blue Bay.
Contact keeper [at] cascobay [dot] org or call (207) 799-8574 for more details.
Spring BayScaping Tips:
Weed: It’s easier to pull weeds by hand in the Spring. Overseed: Seed bare spots with perennial ryegrass before weeds take over. Sharpen blades of the lawn mower: A sharper cut prevents tearing, which can open the grass to fungal infection.
In 1998, then Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne was featured in a newspaper ad with the message, “Weed‘n’feed isn’t fish food.”
This was the precursor to BayScaping, an outreach campaign that Friends of Casco Bay has conducted since 2000, to encourage homeowners to reduce their use of pesticides and fertilizers. We have partnered with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control on ads, publications, workshops, and Flower Show exhibits, to show homeowners how—and why—to grow lawns without using chemicals that harm our coastal waters. Yet, after nearly two decades of outreach, it is evident that education alone has not significantly reduced the amount of pesticides and fertilizers purchased for Maine lawns.
Citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about the impacts of pesticides and weed-and feed products (a mix of pesticides and fertilizers) on children, pets, pollinators, and the rest of us. Residents are taking matters into their own hands to ban lawn chemicals.
In 2015, Ogunquit became the first town in Maine to enact an ordinance banning the use of outdoor pesticides on both public and private land. South Portland is poised to do the same. South Portland’s approach focuses on education—for consumers, retailers, and town employees—before it phases in a prohibition on pesticide use on public properties, including athletic fields. A ban on pesticide use on private property will follow a year later. In a nod to Friends of Casco Bay’s concerns about nitrogen pollution in Casco Bay, the committee that drafted the South Portland ordinance has stated that an ordinance on fertilizers will be enacted separately.
At the other end of Casco Bay, the coastal town of Harpswell passed a pesticide ordinance on March 12th. Its ordinance clearly seeks to protect the fishing community, where lobstering is a way of life.
According to Mary Ann Nahf, Chair of Harpswell’s Conservation Commission, “The ordinance bans neonictinoids and insect growth regulators because of their toxicity to pollinators and lobsters. To further protect marine createures, it prohibits spraying of any pesticide or fertilizer within 25 feet of the shoreline.”
These ordinances may serve as models for Portland and other municipalities. Could a trend in community bans portend a downward turn in the use of pesticides and fertilizers? Time will tell.
Friends of Casco Bay’s Board members are key partners in protecting Casco Bay.
Jack Thomas leads a double life. At dawn, he is a lobsterman setting traps off South Freeport from his 32-foot lobster boat Dark’n’Stormy. By 9 a.m., he’s at his desk at RBC Wealth Management, advising clients on how they should invest their funds. Both personas are a good match for his avocation: President of the Board of Friends of Casco Bay.
Jack grew up in South Freeport, where he still sails and lobsters. Over the past 20 years, Jack has taken hundreds of people out on his lobster boat to share the beauty of the Harraseeket River region and surrounding islands.
Jack and his wife Susan have always engaged in outdoor activities with their three children, now young adults. Whether skiing, fishing, kayaking, camping, or cruising around Casco Bay, they are reminded of the advice Jack’s father gave him: “Wherever you go, leave the place in better shape than when you found it.” Jack’s support of Friends is one way he continues to fulfill that responsibility.
You can see how other community members are partnering with us to protect the Bay on our Community Connection page.