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Spring Blooms in Casco Bay

What signs tell you that spring has arrived? Grass turning green? A robin in your yard? Ospreys returning to their nests?

What about huge blooms of phytoplankton in Casco Bay?

The chlorophyll fluorescence measurements in the graph above were recorded by our Continuous Monitoring Station, which has been in place for almost two years.

Chlorophyll fluorescence is a measure that provides an estimate of phytoplankton abundance. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that traps the energy of the sun for photosynthesis.

The graph tells us that this year’s spring bloom of phytoplankton started around the same time as last year, but was bigger in magnitude this year than in 2017.

Why do we care about chlorophyll levels? Phytoplankton are the single-celled plants that make up the foundation of the ocean food web. Phytoplankton also provide half of all the oxygen we breath—so thank phytoplankton for every other breathe you take. You can read more about phytoplankton and chlorophyll in our recent post.

Photography by Kevin Morris

Every hour and every day, the Continuous Monitoring Station—a.k.a our “Cage of Science”—is building a more complete picture of the seasons beneath the Bay. Thanks to support from Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and generous donors, the Station collects measurements of temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, and chlorophyll fluorescence year-round. Every other week, Research Associate Mike Doan cleans and calibrates the equipment, and downloads and graphs the data to track conditions in the Bay.

How Does the New Tax Plan Affect Your Charitable Giving?

The new tax plan passed by Congress this year will have serious consequences for donors who deduct charitable gifts. We want to be sure you have a sense of how this may affect your giving to Friends of Casco Bay.

If you have questions about the new tax plan, we strongly recommend you talk with your financial advisor.

In a nut shell:
Effective for taxable years 2018 through 2025, the standard deduction has been doubled to $24,000 for married couples ($12,000 for individuals) and the personal exemption is eliminated.* The overall limitation on itemized deductions is eliminated. —And the deduction for charitable gifts is retained and expanded to allow taxpayers to deduct up to 60% of their adjusted gross income for gifts of cash to nonprofits.**

What does this mean for this year?
In 2018 and beyond, if your yearly itemized deductions are not likely to exceed the increased standard exemption you may wish to make a large charitable gift prior to year-end (December 31, 2017) in order to maximize the charitable income tax deduction in 2017.

If you would like to maximize your charitable giving deduction this year, please consider making a gift to Friends of Casco Bay before December 31. You may send a check to Friends of Casco Bay, 43 Slocum Drive, South Portland, ME 04101, make a secure gift online at https://www.cascobay.org/donate/, or contact Will Everitt by email or phone [willeveritt [at] cascobay [dot] org, (207) 671-1315] for stock gift instructions.

What does the new tax plan mean for future years?
For the same reasons, in future years, clients may also benefit by bunching multiple years of charitable gifts into a single year. This strategy may work particularly well if you give annually—you may want to contribute the charitable sum to a Donor Advised Fund and then make grants periodically in future years according to your original giving plan. If you would like to talk with Friends of Casco Bay about planned giving, please email or call Will Everitt (willeveritt [at] cascobay [dot] org, (207) 671-1315).

The implications of this sweeping tax act are still abstract and uncertain. We will continue to monitor and assess the potential effects on nonprofits and governmental agencies.

Again, we strongly recommend you talk with your financial advisor. Thank you for being charitably minded.



* “The Tax cuts and Jobs Act,” an “Advanced Planning” report by UBS, pp. 3-4, December 2017.


Anything but “Fresh” . . .

Stormwater Is Anything but Fresh . . .

After a rainstorm, millions of gallons of polluted stormwater pour into Casco Bay.
After a rainstorm, millions of gallons of polluted stormwater pour into Casco Bay.


The same scene from the Eastern Prom on a dry, sunny day paints a healthier picture.

In recent years, long dry periods have been followed by heavy rains that dump inches of water in a few hours or days, sending plumes of polluted stormwater into Casco Bay. Millions of gallons of raw sewage, industrial wastes, fertilizers and pet wastes from yards, oil slicks from city streets, and toxins from tailpipes and smokestacks are flushed into Casco Bay.

As he gazes out over a brown bay after yet another torrential rain, Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne knows the coffee-colored stain spreading across the water’s surface is anything but fresh water. “This toxic soup can sicken swimmers, make seafood unsafe to eat, and harm marine life,” Joe says. Rainstorms in and of themselves are not bad, but the polluted runoff they flush into Casco Bay reminds us that we all need to do more to protect the waters that define our community. It takes a community to address the problems and ensure a cleaner, healthier Casco Bay for future generations.

You can help. Support Friends of Casco Bay by donating or volunteering.

Thank You to Our Volunteer Citizen Scientists

It Takes a Community to Protect the Bay

Friends of Casco Bay’s most valuable asset is a committed corps of volunteers. Together, they have donated more than 150,000 hours of service over the past 25 years. Our neighbors around the Bay help us tackle issues and projects in ways that significantly enhance the work of our staff of ten.

We piloted our Water Quality Monitoring Program in 1992 to prove that volunteers could collect reliable data. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly given our monitoring methods its scientific “seal of approval.” Our communities and governments could not afford to pay professional scientists and contractors for the work our volunteer citizen scientists do for free. Our volunteers sample on 10 selected Saturdays, at 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., from April through October.

Our volunteers and staff collect data sets that:

  • Ground our advocacy with credible, scientifically accurate facts
  • Are legally defensible and are incorporated into Maine’s biennial report to Congress under the Clean Water Act
  • Create a portrait of Casco Bay that documents baseline conditions and environmental changes
  • Inspire stewardship by encouraging community service and volunteerism
  • Stimulate and support research by government agencies, universities, and scientific institutions

Read the next section of the report How Healthy Is Casco Bay?

Lawns Are to Blame for Much of the Nitrogen and Toxic Chemicals in the Bay

Joe’s footprints in green slime at a cove in Falmouth

Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne received a panicked call from a member of Friends of Casco Bay who lived on a cove in Falmouth. He asked Joe to discover the polluter whose actions had turned his scenic inlet bright green. When Joe walked out onto the flat to investigate, his boots sank four inches into green slime. He observed that the member had recently installed a culvert under the driveway that channelled rainwater runoff directly into the cove. He turned to his worried friend and said, “You did this.” The culvert was collecting runoff from fertilized yards in the neighborhood, stimulating a lush growth of green algae across the entire cove.

Friends of Casco Bay’s stormwater monitoring reveals that this neighborhood is not the only one over-fertilizing the Bay. We have found nitrogen and lawn care pesticides in waters around Casco Bay.

Because our advocacy is grounded in science, we worked in conjunction with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control to collected water samples around Casco Bay. Chemicals we found are shown on this map.

When Friends of Casco Bay tested stormwater for pesticides in a South Portland waterfront neighborhood, we found Diazinon and 2,4D, a component of weed and feed products. This prompted further testing at every coastal community around Casco Bay. We detected more pesticides flowing into the Bay in stormwater. Our findings inspired our BayScaping program, which teaches residents how to reduce their use of lawn chemicals.

Pesticides and fertilizers can harm marine life, as well as children and pets. But the good news is there are simple ways you can grow a green lawn that keeps Casco Bay blue.

BayScaping will save you time, save you money, save your lawn, and save the Bay! Join your neighbors, and learn more at cascobay.org/bayscaping.

Read the next section of the report What Is Our Coastal Future?

Nitrogen—Can’t Live Without It, Can’t Live With Too Much of It

Click the Nitrogen Concentrations Map to see a larger version.

All living things need nitrogen to grow. Nitrogen stimulates the growth of plants—both on land and in the ocean. In the marine environment, nitrogen jumpstarts blooms of algae—seaweed and phytoplankton, the tiny plants that form the base of the ocean food chain and provide half the oxygen we breathe. But an overdose of nitrogen triggers excessive growth of nuisance, and even harmful, algae. As these plants decay, bacteria take oxygen out of the water and release carbon dioxide into our coastal waters.

The map below shows concentrations of nitrogen around the Bay. There is a very clear trend of decreasing nitrogen away from shore. This indicates that land-based sources are contributing excess nitrogen to our waters. The farther offshore, the better the water quality!


Read the next section of the report Where Does All This Nitrogen Pollution Come From?

The Report: A Changing Casco Bay

A Changing Casco Bay: The Bay Where You Work and Play Is at Risk

Learn How You Can Help Protect the Health of Casco Bay

For a full version of the report A Changing Casco Bay in PDF, please use this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_dTKz-k7OLmQzRlWGxFaXhwNGM/view?usp=sharing

Valued for its rich diversity of marine life, Casco Bay was designated an Estuary of National Significance by the federal government in 1990. A technical report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on environmental benchmarks found that Casco Bay had twice as many marine organisms as other temperate bays. Since 1989, Friends of Casco Bay has been working to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

The dots indicate work that Friends of Casco Bay volunteers and staff have done around the Bay over the past 25 years. Click on the image to see a larger version.


Report Sections

Click on any topic below to jump to that section.

What’s Beneath the Beautiful View?

It Takes a Community to Protect the Bay

How Healthy Is Casco Bay?

Trends in Water Quality

The Double Whammy—Climate Change and Nitrogen Pollution

Nitrogen—Can’t Live Without It, Can’t Live With Too Much of It

Where Does All This Nitrogen Pollution Come From?

It Shucks to Be a Clam

What Starts on Our Lawns Ends Up in Our Bay

What Is Our Coastal Future?

YOU Can Make a Difference

Anything but “Fresh”. . .


Casco Bay by the Numbers

236,483 = Number of residents living in the Casco Bay watershed, from Bethel to the Bay (2010)

1 in 5 = Number of Mainers living in the Casco Bay watershed

578 = Miles of shoreline around the Bay

200 = Approximate area of water in the Bay in square miles

785 = Islands and exposed ledges in the Bay

$628,143,000 = Value of ocean related activities on and around Casco Bay (2011)


Working Waterfront and Scenic Postcard

Casco Bay extends from Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth to Cape Small in Phippsburg, encompassing 13 coastal communities, including two of Maine’s largest cities, Portland and South Portland, and two of Maine’s newest towns, Long Island and Chebeague Island. The Casco Bay watershed collects water across a landscape of nearly 1,000 square miles, from 42 communities between Bethel and the coast.

Casco Bay is an estuary, where rivers and tides converge. Rivers add nutrients, tides deliver cold, oxygen-rich seawater, and relatively shallow depths provide protected habitat. These factors make our estuary the feeding, breeding, and nursery grounds for 850 species of marine life in Casco Bay, from microscopic plants to migrating pilot whales, and for 150 kinds of waterbirds that nest here.

The circulation of water around Casco Bay is affected by runoff from rivers and streams, tidal action, currents, winds, and geography. Many small rivers, including the Fore, Presumpscot, Harraseeket, Royal, and Cousins, empty directly into Casco Bay, but their collective volume cannot match the influence of the Kennebec River. Even though it is not in the Casco Bay watershed, we have detected runoff from the Kennebec at Halfway Rock, nearly nine nautical miles from where the river enters the ocean.

Casco Bay is both a working waterfront—a port of call for cruise ships, oil tankers, and bulk cargo transports—and a scenic postcard of historic forts, stalwart lighthouses, and secluded anchorages.

In the mid-1800s, tanneries, foundries, slaughterhouses, and shipyards crowded the Casco Bay waterfront. Later, power plants, filling stations, tank farms, and discharge pipes from industry and sewage treatment plants were added to the shoreline. Though many of these pollution sources have been removed, polluted runoff, overflows from sewage pipes en route to sewage treatment plants, boater sewage, the threat of oil spills, and the effects of climate change jeopardize the health of the Bay.

For over 23 years, staff and volunteers have been collecting data for Friends of Casco Bay, to give us a better understanding of the health of our coastal waters. This report focuses on nitrogen, oxygen, water clarity, pH, and pesticides, to create a comprehensive overview of the water quality of the Bay.

Read next section of the report What’s Beneath the Beautiful View?

Thank You to Our Volunteer Citizen Scientists

Thank You to Our Donors



Friends of Casco Bay Honors Volunteers

Friends of Casco Bay’s Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland congratulates volunteers who achieved milestones in water quality monitoring in 2013: Joan Greene and Mike Doan—20 years, Roberta Brezinski—15 years, Jeannie Wester and Nan Bragg—5 years. (Not shown: 5-year veterans Charlotte Rosenthal and Sarah Coburn)

One in four Americans volunteers for an organization. One in every three Mainers does.

On January 28, Friends of Casco Bay celebrated 25 years of volunteers protecting Casco Bay. The conservation organization, founded by volunteers, showed its gratitude at the 2014 Volunteer Appreciation Celebration and Annual Members Meeting, held at USM’s Abromson Center in Portland. Friends of Casco Bay could not succeed without its valued volunteers, who help to clean beaches, stencil storm drains, and even stuff envelopes for fundraising.  Of special note are the 79 volunteer Water Quality Monitors who devoted ten Saturdays in 2013 collecting critical data on the health of Casco Bay.

At the Volunteer Appreciation Celebration, seven of these citizen scientists were recognized for reaching milestones in monitoring Casco Bay:

20 years—Joan Greene of Yarmouth and Mike Doan of South Portland

15 years—Roberta Brezinski of Durham

5 years—Nan Bragg of Yarmouth, Sarah Coburn of Portland, Charlotte Rosenthal of Freeport, and Jeannie Wester of Yarmouth.

Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland trains and supports Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteers. He says, “Being a volunteer with us enables you to meet like-minded people, learn new skills, feel fulfilled, and have fun while you make a difference in the health of Casco Bay.”