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Three decades of success – the impact of Friends of Casco Bay

Friends of Casco Bay has a long history of success. Since our founding in 1989, our work-with, science-based approach has moved the needle toward a healthier, more protected Bay.

  • We championed a halt to cruise ship pollution and won a No Discharge Area designation for Casco Bay, the first in Maine.
  • We have secured better long-term protection through Clean Water Act classification upgrades for three areas of Casco Bay, ensuring stricter, permanent pollution restrictions.
  • Our water quality data are sent to Congress every two years; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection uses our data in its Clean Water Act biennial reporting to Congress and would not be in compliance without it.
  • We advocated for Portland to get back on track—and we continue to push to keep efforts on track— to fulfill its court-ordered agreement to clean up and eliminate dozens of combined sewer overflows, reducing the amount of raw sewage flowing into the Bay.
  • We are leading the call to reduce nitrogen discharges into our coastal waters. We forged an agreement with Portland Water District, which set a goal of reducing nitrogen coming out of the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility. During the summer of 2018, they reduced nitrogen levels by 70%, on average.
  • Our data and advocacy inspired South Portland and Portland to pass the strictest ordinances in the state to reduce pollution from pesticides. Harpswell also passed a pesticide ordinance with our input, and other communities are considering similar restrictions.
  • We convinced the legislature to form an Ocean Acidification Commission to investigate and make policy recommendations to address our acidifying waters.
  • We helped form the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) to coordinate the work of researchers, government officials, and advocates to reduce acidification and address climate change. Our Casco Baykeeper currently serves as the coordinator of MOCA.
  • We successfully advocated for Portland to pass an ordinance designed to discourage single-use bags in favor of reusable ones. The bag ordinance, in turn, inspired Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, South Portland, and eight other towns in the state to pass similar laws. We also won a polystyrene (e.g. Styrofoam) ban in Portland.
  • Our BayScaping Program is teaching thousands of residents and landscaping professionals to grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue; this is the model for the state of Maine’s YardScaping Program.
  • Our Casco Bay Curriculum has reached an estimated 17,500 students. We help teachers incorporate our monitoring data into their classroom activities. We have provided professional development courses for more than 700 teachers.
  • We fought to improve the S.D.Warren (now SAPPI) paper mill’s Clean Water Act discharge permit, significantly cutting the pollution released into our waters.
  • We helped lead the response to the largest oil spill in Maine history, the Julie N, and assisted responders in recovering an unprecedented 78% of the spilled oil (a 15-20% recovery is considered a success).
  • We were a founding member of Waterkeeper Alliance in 1999, a network that has grown to include over 300 Baykeepers, Riverkeepers, and other Waterkeepers
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.

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.

Althea McGirr at LIttle Diamond Island

Althea Bennett McGirr says, “It shucks to be a clam!”

Althea McGirr at LIttle Diamond Island
Althea Bennett McGirr, a Board member since 2011, doesn’t need Friends of Casco Bay to tell her that the chemistry of Casco Bay is changing. She has seen the effects of Coastal Acidification firsthand.

At the annual Labor Day clambake on Little Diamond Island, Althea and her sister Priscilla help out at the end-of-the-season event that draws the community together for a farewell to summer. While the lobsters, sweet potatoes, sausages, and corn are roasting in a fire pit outside the hundred year-old Casino, their job is to wash and de-sand freshly harvested Casco Bay clams.

Althea recalls scooping huge handfuls of clams into 8 heavy kettles to steam them for the feast. Nowadays, they have to place the clams into the pot delicately, or else the shells may end up chipped or even shattered. Althea says that the clams they buy now are smaller and more fragile than the ones she
recalls from years back.

Althea’s observations seem to correspond to observations Friends of Casco Bay has been making over the years. We are studying Coastal Acidification, the problem of increasing acidity from the ocean absorbing carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels, and, we believe, from excess nitrogen washing into coastal waters by stormwater runoff. Fertilizers, sewage discharges, and pet wastes trigger algae blooms that add excess carbon dioxide to coastal waters.

Pitted Clam
The pitted shell shows that life can be tough for a clam spat in acidic mud.

Our data shows that the acidity of Casco Bay has increased since we began our water quality monitoring program nearly 25 years ago. In 2011, we began sampling the pH (acidity) of mudflat sediments, where soft-shell clams live. We found that the mud nearest to shore was more acidic (had lower pH) than sediments further away from sources of land-based pollution. Higher acidity makes it harder for shellfish to extract calcium carbonate from their environment, the material that clams, mussels, and other mollusks need to build and strengthen their shells.

In the summer of 2014, Friends of Casco Bay installed several clam “condos” in the intertidal mudflats of Recompense Bay in Freeport. Our goal was to see what would happen when we exposed juvenile clams to acidic mud. Research Associate Mike Doan caged baby clams inside PVC tubes and left them in the mud for several days. Microscope photographs of the tiny clam spat showed that after just one week, their shells had become pitted, showing signs of dissolving.

Peter Dufour, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member

Community Connection: Peter Dufour

Peter Dufour, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member
Peter Dufour, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member
Sidewalk Buttler Sponsored by Dufour Tax Group LLC
Sidewalk Buttler Sponsored by Dufour Tax Group LLC

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

Peter Dufour: “We want our legacy to be getting rid of cigarette butts.”

CPA Peter Dufour and his wife Kelly have an office overlooking Commercial Street in Portland. “Cigarette butts are everywhere in the city. The whole sidewalk in front of the bars is littered with cigarette butts.”

Friends of Casco Bay connected them with Mike Roylos, creator of Sidewalk Buttlers, metal cylinders that hold discarded cigarette butts that are later recycled. Peter and Kelly funded five new Sidewalk Buttlers along Commercial Street, enough to keep 20,000 butts a year out of the Bay. The devices (shown below) hang on lampposts, within easy reach of patrons leaving the bars and restaurants.

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

Community Connection: Tollef Olson

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.

Jack Thomas, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member

Community Connection: Jack Thomas

Jack Thomas, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member
Jack Thomas, Friends of Casco Bay Board Member

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.