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Executive Director Cathy L. Ramsdell is retiring

A letter from Cathy:

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With much love,
Cathy

Cathy L. Ramsdell
Executive Director
Friends of Casco Bay

Congratulating Cathy

If you would like to share words of congratulations or a favorite memory with Cathy, please do so here. We ask that you share your thoughts by August 15, so we have time to assemble these messages into one booklet to present to Cathy.

Congratulate Cathy

A message from our Board President

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

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

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

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

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

Save the Date! Cathy’s retirement party

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

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

RSVP

Congratulating Cathy

Share your words of congratulations or a favorite memory with Cathy below. We will be collecting all of these messages in one place for Cathy. Please send your thoughts by August 15 so that we have time to assemble these into a booklet for her.

Alternatively, you can share your thoughts by sending an email to keeper [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Sharing your congratulatory message with Cathy

Contact Information

The following fields will be used to contact you if we have questions about how to best share your thoughts with Cathy.
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Celebrating Cathy Ramsdell

After 18 years of serving as our Executive Director at Friends of Casco Bay, Cathy Ramsdell is retiring. In honor of Cathy and her leadership, we are hosting a celebration and we would love for you to join us. 

Celebrating Cathy Ramsdell – A Retirement Party

When: Thursday, August 26, 2021
5:00 – 7:00 p.m. Remarks at 6 p.m.
The evening will begin with a cocktail hour, with catered hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. A reading by Gulf of Maine poet Gary Lawless will follow, as well as remarks from our staff, board, and of course, Cathy herself. 

Where: Portland Yacht Services, 100 West Commercial Street, Portland
The event will be held outside and in person. Recommended dress code is summer casual. Please note that the terrain in the boatyard is rocky and uneven, so wear stable footwear.

RSVP by Monday, August 16

We are thankful to Portland Yacht Services for hosting our celebration at their boatyard – our party tent will have water views of Portland Harbor. Ample parking is available at the venue. 

 

Under Cathy’s leadership, we garnered a federal No Discharge Area designation for the Bay, helped reduce nitrogen pollution from effluent wastewater, launched our volunteer Water Reporter program, and completed the $1.5 million Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund to operate three Continuous Monitoring Stations across the Bay for the decade ahead. In short, in the wake of her retirement, Cathy is leaving behind a stronger, more resilient organization.

Here are three ways you can help us celebrate Cathy’s leadership:

1. Attend Cathy’s retirement party
Join us at our first in-person event in 18 months to raise a toast to all Cathy has helped us accomplish and to her life ahead. RSVP using the form above.

2. Join our Anchor Society
As she announced her retirement, Cathy also shared that she is joining our Anchor Society by making a planned gift to Friends of Casco Bay. We ask you to consider following her lead. You can find more information about making a planned gift at cascobay.org/anchor-society. Your legacy will help secure the longevity of our organization and the health of Casco Bay for years to come.

3. Make a one-time gift in honor of Cathy
Use the form above or go to cascobay.org/donate to make a donation in Cathy’s honor. Your tribute will be commemorated in our Annual Report to the Community, which will be released later this year.

Thank you for working with us to keep Casco Bay blue. We hope to see you on August 26.

You’re invited to our Members Annual Meeting

Friends of Casco Bay will be hosting the Members Annual Meeting on Tuesday July 20, from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

We will celebrate our collective victories for Casco Bay over the past year, vote on term renewals for some members of the Board of Directors, and together consider the work ahead as we continue our efforts to protect the health of our coastal waters. We will share details about an in-person event we are planning in August — our first in-person event in more than 19 months.

Register Now

What: Friends of Casco Bay 2021 Members Annual Meeting

When: Tuesday, July 20, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Where: This will be an online event. You must register to attend.

Materials for the event:

990 Friends of Casco Bay
Financial Statements
Annual Report
Our Financial Information
2020 Annual Meeting Minutes

Thank you for caring about Casco Bay!

Why does Casco Bay’s water look so clear?

Peering over the side of the R/V Joseph E. Payne, Staff Scientist Mike Doan could see schools of small fish swimming in the water below, while the red hood of a lion’s mane jellyfish floated by on the other side of our Baykeeper boat. What caught Mike’s eye, however, was not the sight of marine life, but rather the fact that his view was unobstructed: for this time of year, the waters of Casco Bay are exceptionally clear.

There are many factors that can affect the clarity of the water in Casco Bay. One major determinant is the abundance of phytoplankton – the tiny marine plants at the base of the ocean food web. Just like plants on land, phytoplankton contain chlorophyll, the green pigment that enables photosynthesis. When phytoplankton are abundant the Bay is a greenish-blue hue. In their absence, the water is often clear and bluer, reflecting the color of the sky above.

The importance of phytoplankton to the health of Casco Bay and the world at large is difficult to overstate. Globally, phytoplankton are estimated to produce 50 percent of the oxygen in the air we breathe. In addition, phytoplankton are key in the food web as they are grazed on by zooplankton, which in turn are fed on by small fish and progressively larger animals. In short, tiny phytoplankton have an oversized impact, providing foundational support for nearly all marine life.

The spring phytoplankton blooms in 2019 and 2021 each peaked in February and trailed off into March. In contrast to these earlier blooms, the spring blooms of 2018 and 2020 were larger in magnitude, with each peaking in March and carrying over into April. This variability may be typical or a sign of changing conditions in Casco Bay – only more data will tell.

Phytoplankton derive their name from the Greek words “phyto” (plant) and “plankton” (wandering, drifting) because they are unable to swim against the flow of the water and instead drift where currents carry them. As phytoplankton have no choice but literally “to go with the flow,” their activity and abundance fluctuate throughout the year as the characteristics and properties of water quality change with the seasons.

As we reported in March, spring in Casco Bay kicks off with a phytoplankton bloom. Warmer waters, more sunlight from longer days, and increased nutrient availability from melting snow and runoff are among the factors that create ideal conditions for this seasonal boom in phytoplankton activity. The spring bloom declines as phytoplankton deplete the available nutrients from the water and are consumed by zooplankton.

We track phytoplankton blooms in Casco Bay by measuring chlorophyll levels at our Continuous Monitoring Stations. This year, our data suggest the spring phytoplankton bloom occurred early, peaking in February and trailing off into March. Our data show a similar pattern in 2019. These early blooms stand in contrast to the larger spring blooms of 2018 and 2020, both of which peaked in March and carried over into April.

“Science has shown there is variability in the timing, duration, and size of spring phytoplankton blooms, so these ‘early’ blooms we’re seeing in our data may be entirely typical,” says Mike. “At the same time, factors like weather, water temperature, and ocean chemistry have large effects on phytoplankton, so marine scientists are concerned that spring blooms may be sensitive to climate change. Because phytoplankton are at the base of the marine food web, a significant change to the timing of the phytoplankton bloom could have implications for every level of Casco Bay’s ecosystem.”

If climate change is affecting the spring phytoplankton bloom in Casco Bay, we will be among the first to know. While Maine has decades of data that show the temperatures of our coastal waters are increasing and that our seas are rising, identifying trends in seasonal phenomena such as the spring bloom requires a detailed, long-term data set – just like the data we are collecting with our Continuous Monitoring Stations. We can track phytoplankton blooms in addition to some of the factors that impact them, such as water temperature or the quantity of spring runoff.

“We’re still in the beginning stages of this effort,” says Mike. “With five years of data from one station, we’re beginning to get a sense of the seasonal changes we can expect to see in the Bay. As more data accumulates, we may have a deeper understanding of how climate change is contributing to changing conditions in the water. With these scientifically grounded insights, we’ll be better prepared to advocate for the policies and practices that will protect the health of the Bay.”

Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station

Continuous Monitoring Stations are Game Changer

Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station
Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station

More than 700 Friends have contributed $1.5 million to help maintain three stations for a decade.

Casco Bay is invaluable to the economy and quality of life in Maine. Our coastal waters provide us with food, recreation, transportation, inspiration, and economic opportunities.

But Casco Bay is changing and changing quickly.

How is climate change impacting Casco Bay? Is the Bay getting warmer? Are our waters acidifying? How can we continue to protect the health of Casco Bay for generations to come?

Addressing these questions involves collecting water quality data on a frequent basis and for a long time. In 2019, we created the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund for Technology, Monitoring, and Community Engagement to launch and maintain three Continuous Monitoring Stations around the Bay and communicate changing conditions to the public. This winter we reached our goal of raising $1.5 million, thanks to more than 700 Friends who donated to the Fund, making our plan a reality.

In March, we launched a new station in eastern Casco Bay in Harpswell’s Cundys Harbor. And, as the photo above shows, in May we deployed our new Portland Harbor station. They complement our existing station located at the coastal center of the Bay in Yarmouth, collecting data hourly on how the Bay is changing, 365 days a year.*

“With climate change already impacting the Bay, the launch of these stations is a game changer for us,” says Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. “Their steady streams of data will strengthen our reporting to the community and bolster our advocacy and stewardship efforts.”

Staff Scientist Mike Doan designed our Continuous Monitoring Stations, affectionately known as our “cages of science.” Oceanographic equipment in the cages collects data on temperature, acidity, dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, chlorophyll, dissolved organic matter, turbidity, salinity, and water depth.

“With three stations working at once, the science only gets better from here,” says Mike. “The Portland Harbor location is key because it is in the most heavily used part of the Bay. In eastern Casco Bay, water quality may be influenced by the Kennebec River, and our Harpswell station will track that. Across the board, these stations are deepening our knowledge of what is happening in Casco Bay.”

Data from the stations are available here.

To commemorate the launch of our two new Stations and the completion of the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund that is making this all possible, please join us for an online Casco Bay Matters event to celebrate! On Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m., Staff Scientist Mike Doan will share and compare, for the first time, data from all three Continuous Monitoring Stations.

Mike will be joined by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca to discuss how these new stations will enhance our advocacy on behalf of Casco Bay for years to come.

We hope you can join us!

What: Celebrating Data From Our New Continuous Monitoring Stations — A Casco Bay Matters Event

When: Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m.

Please register to attend this online event.

Register Now

 

 *We remain grateful that the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership has supported the launch and maintenance of our initial station.

Join us: new stations, a celebration, and data!

As spring settles on Casco Bay, ospreys return to their nests, and alewives leave the sea and swim upriver to spawn in freshwater.

The arrival of spring has always brought seasonal shifts to Casco Bay, but today climate change and human influences are impacting our coastal waters at a scale and pace we do not fully understand. That is why we are expanding our array of Continuous Monitoring Stations to monitor changing conditions in three regions of Casco Bay, every hour of every day, 365 days a year.

In March, we launched a new Continuous Monitoring Station in Harpswell’s Cundys Harbor to track conditions unique to the embayments and coves of eastern Casco Bay. Today, we launched our Portland Harbor Station to monitor water quality in the Bay’s busiest and most populated region. These two new Stations join our original Continuous Monitoring Station located at the coastal center of the Bay off Yarmouth.

To commemorate the launch of our two new Stations and the completion of the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund that is making this all possible, please join us for an online Casco Bay Matters event to celebrateOn Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m., Staff Scientist Mike Doan will share and compare, for the first time, data from all three Continuous Monitoring Stations.

Register Now

Mike will be joined by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca to discuss how these new stations will enhance our advocacy on behalf of Casco Bay for years to come.

We hope you can join us!

What: Celebrating Data From Our New Continuous Monitoring Stations — A Casco Bay Matters Event

When: Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m.

Please register to attend this online event.

Register Now

Our top 10 moments of 2020

As this very odd year comes to a close, let’s celebrate the large and small ways our community helped us protect the health of Casco Bay in 2020. Here are our top ten for the year:

1.) On December 2, the Maine Climate Council released its four-year Climate Action Plan, “Maine Won’t Wait.” We are heartened that the plan sets a roadmap for achieving carbon neutrality in Maine by 2045 and includes important mitigation measures to help coastal communities adapt to looming changes.

2.) Our volunteer Water Reporters were chosen as CommUNITY Champions. More than 240 volunteers are helping us keep watch over the health of the Bay.

3.) Gulf of Maine Poet Gary Lawless wrote the poem, “For Casco Bay, For Us,” in honor of our 30th anniversary. You can read the poem here and hear Gary read it at our Celebrating Water event in July, hosted by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell.

4.) The South Portland City Council passed a groundbreaking fertilizer ordinance to promote soil health and to protect Casco Bay from nitrogen pollution.

5.) In October, Staff Scientist Mike Doan and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca shared what they saw on the Bay this field season during What Casco Bay is Telling Us: A Casco Bay Matters Event.  Ivy also hosted a Casco Bay Matters event earlier this year about the Maine Climate Council.

6.) Knack Factory made this short documentary about our work in honor of our 30th anniversary. If you liked that film, watch this behind the scenes montage about how it was made!

7.) We were delighted that Royal River Conservation Trust selected Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and Friends of Casco Bay as recipients of their Conservation Champion Award.

8.) On Facebook, this huge lion’s mane jellyfish and this beautiful rainbow were our two most shared images from this year.

9.) We launched the public phase of our $1.5 million Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund. We are now less than $15,000 from crossing the finish line! And we will soon be launching two more continuous monitoring stations, thanks to the Fund!

10.) While we couldn’t celebrate our 30th anniversary in person, we were honored to have these community partners reflect on our success over the past three decades. We also took a trip down memory lane by scrolling through this timeline of our biggest victories and milestones.

We look forward to keeping you updated in the New Year. Thank you for being a Friend of Casco Bay.

More good news for the Bay

Nuisance algal blooms, such as the one seen this summer along the Fore River in South Portland, can be caused by excess nitrogen. These blooms can degrade water quality and create conditions that worsen coastal acidification.

Casco Bay received an early holiday gift: the City of South Portland passed an ordinance to restrict the use of fertilizers in order to encourage soil health and reduce nitrogen pollution into our coastal waters.

Friends of Casco Bay applauds South Portland for taking this first-in-Maine step to protect our marine resources. The ordinance, which updates the City’s groundbreaking pesticide regulations, was passed on November 17. Any fertilizers used must be organic and free from synthetic chemicals, and a soil test is request before any use is allowed. There are special provisions for high performance such as playing fields, and new construction. The ordinance focuses on best practices for promoting soil health.

South Portland began working on this ordinance because nitrogen, which is found in lawn care fertilizers, can be washed downstream into the Bay. Once in marine water, excess nitrogen can cause nuisance and harmful algal blooms, which degrade water quality and create conditions that worsen coastal acidification. Friends of Casco Bay’s water quality data, including sampling for Total Nitrogen and pesticides, have been pivotal for helping the city understand the need to limit the use of lawn care chemicals.

South Portland’s City Council appointed Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell to the Fertilizer Working Group, which was tasked with drafting the protections. For a year-and-a-half, Cathy served alongside local residents, city officials, and landscaping business owners, to develop the ordinance.

“This is great news for the Casco Bay! South Portland has shown tremendous leadership in its efforts to protect our marine resources,” says Cathy, reflecting on the Working Group’s effort. “Whenever we hit a roadblock in the drafting of the ordinance, work group members found a way forward by reminding ourselves of the need protect the health of the Bay and the importance of healthy soils, especially in light of climate change.”

While South Portland’s fertilizer ordinance is the first of its kind in the state, we hope it will not be the last. Local ordinances such as this can lead to changes at regional and statewide levels. The City’s pesticide ordinance, for example, has been used as a template by other municipalities in Maine, including Portland.

As a Friend of the Bay, you probably know that we launched our BayScaping program nearly 20 years ago to help residents and businesses grow green lawns that can help keep Casco Bay blue. We have worked with local residents, Master Gardeners, landscape professionals, and state agencies to encourage the use of ecological approaches to lawn care rather than depending on fertilizers and pesticides. As BayScaping has taken root in our communities, more towns around the Bay have considered ordinances to reduce lawn care chemicals.

Helping municipalities develop ordinances is just one of the many ways Friends of Casco Bay is working to limit nitrogen pollution in the Bay. We continue to work with federal, state, and local officials to reduce sewer overflows, address stormwater pollution, and enforce the Bay’s No Discharge Area status.

Here’s the video from “Visual Storytelling and Casco Bay”

We had a blast hosting Visual Storytelling and Casco Bay: A Conversation with Knack Factory. Here is a video of the event, for those of you who were unable to attend live or would like to rewatch.

What struck us, as we spoke with Alex Steed and Lindsey Heald about Knack Factory’s process for telling stories, is how collaboratively they work together and with their clients. As an organization that values collaboration and community, we are delighted to count them as Friends of the Bay.

Here are two key moments that you may want to check out:

Here is Working With You to Keep Casco Bay Blue, the short documentary Knack Factory made in honor of our 30th anniversary.

Here is a behind-the-scenes montage of the week Knack Factory spent with our staff and volunteers as they filmed our documentary. Consider this 4½-minute clip from the event as a big Thank You to all those who made this documentary possible: Lindsey Heald, Thomas Starkey, and Tadin Brown of Knack Factory, volunteers Tony and Hilary Jessen and Joan Benoit Samuelson, LightHawk and their volunteer pilot Jim Schmidt, and Handy Boat.

If you want to see more of Knack Factory’s work, head over to their website.

Thank you to Knack Factory and TD Bank for making our event a success.

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