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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.

Good news for Maine and for Casco Bay

We have exciting news! Maine’s Climate Action Plan “Maine Won’t Wait” was released on Tuesday. The plan is a four-year road map for the state to follow as we work to address the causes and impacts of climate change.

I serve on the Coastal and Marine Working Group of the Maine Climate Council, and Friends of Casco Bay spent hundreds of hours working on coastal-related aspects of the plan. Media reports have focused on the parts of the plan aimed at reducing carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutrality in Maine by 2045. The plan also includes important mitigation measures to help our communities adapt to looming changes. We are impressed and pleased with the Mills’ administration’s commitment to addressing the causes and consequences of climate change. Here is a link to the plan:  https://www.maine.gov/future/sites/maine.gov.future/files/inline-files/MaineWontWait_December2020.pdf

Here are some highlights from the Climate Action Plan in relation to Casco Bay:

Establish a monitoring network and Coastal and Marine Information Exchange (pages 79-81 of the plan)
The information exchange will help municipal and regional officials make decisions based on the best available science and projections. For example, infrastructure should be built with an understanding of sea level rise projections. The information exchange model builds upon and likely will incorporate the voluntary Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification (MOCA) partnership that we helped establish and coordinate. MOCA will meet next week to discuss its role in helping the State achieve its climate action goals. The plan also seeks to establish a statewide monitoring network by 2024. We expect this network to build upon existing public-private monitoring networks, including our seasonal monitoring and Continuous Monitoring Stations. Others, including the Wells Reserve and the Department of Marine Resources, already are consulting with our Staff Scientist Mike Doan as they develop their ocean acidification monitoring stations.

Assess and protect our blue carbon stocks for carbon sequestration and to help our coast provide healthy habitat and climate resiliency (pages 78-79)
We are very excited by this goal. “Blue carbon stocks” include vital habitat including coastal salt marshes, seagrass beds, and seaweeds. These resources not only store carbon, but also are critical for a healthy Casco Bay. These environments provide nursery grounds and habitat; they also can absorb storm surges better than man-made structures.

Revise Maine’s coastal land use laws to consider climate change (page 87)
We look forward to working with the State to revise its stormwater laws and regulations and other land use laws in the coastal zone. Without these changes, we cannot prepare for and mitigate the consequences of climate change.

Foster nature-based solutions (page 87)
Protecting and restoring Maine’s valuable coastal resources are critically important to adapting to climate change. If we restore natural water flows with right-sized culverts, plan for marsh migration, restore and protect coastal wetlands and dunes, the benefits will be invaluable. We need to retain as much of our current coastal resources as possible and help our coastal environments and people adapt to climate change.

We appreciate Governor Mills’ leadership and commitment to the climate crisis, at a time when we are all coping with a second crisis—the pandemic.

We will continue our commitment at Friends of Casco Bay to reducing the causes of climate change and to addressing its consequences. We are about to expand our array of Continuous Monitoring Stations in the Bay, and we are elated at the timing of this effort. Data from these stations will deepen not only our understanding of what we will need to do to protect Casco Bay, but more broadly may be of benefit to all of coastal Maine. We look forward to working with the Department of Environmental Protection and others in helping Maine reshape coastal regulations. We expect to be very actively engaged in this effort.

We will keep you updated as we continue to work with state agencies, partner organizations, and community members to help implement the plan.

Our Statement on Environmental Justice

Casco Bay belongs to everyone.

This is more than just a phrase to those of us who work at Friends of Casco Bay.

We work to improve and protect the health of this special place for everyone. We are committed to creating a culture and practices that integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into our work.

To work towards that goal, we have been deepening our conversations with one another as a group and as individuals, about the intersections of environmentalism and social justice. This includes, in part, expanding our understanding about systemic racism, tyranny, and violence in our country and our community.

The inequities in our society cannot be separated from the climate crisis, a key focus of our work. Vulnerable and marginalized populations, including black people, people of color, indigenous people, people living in poverty, women, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities have disproportionately experienced the brunt of pollution and the effects of climate change. These environmental injustices arise from inequalities and uneven power structures, including structural racism.

We stand in solidarity with the activists and organizations who are leading the call for justice and accountability. We are supporting efforts that recognize environmental justice and are aimed at ensuring equal access to clean waters. We oppose efforts that deny that right.

This is a long-overdue moment for communities to come together and change behaviors and systems. This includes listening and learning. This requires acting to ensure Casco Bay and its watershed are improved and protected with and for all people. We acknowledge that we need to expand our capacity to foster diverse viewpoints, and we commit to continuing our work on this.

We are not experts at confronting the depth of injustices experienced in our nation. We know we will miss the mark sometimes as we move toward more inclusive and equitable practices and culture. We invite you to keep us accountable by letting us know when we do. This will help us all learn and improve together.

Most sincerely,

Cathy, Jeff, Ivy, Mike, Sara, Sarah, and Will

What Casco Bay is telling us

We had a lively and informative What Casco Bay is telling us: a Casco Bay Matters Event as more than 100 Friends joined us for the conversation. Here is a video of the event, for those of you who were not able to attend live or would like to relisten.

If you don’t have time to watch the entire event, here are some key moments that you may want to check out:

In this 3½ minute clip, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca shares her observations on what the Bay was like during this very strange year.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan shares temperature data from our Continuous Monitoring Station (2½ minutes).

Mike explains how we can get a sense of the productivity of the base of the food chain and offers his thoughts as to why our waters have been so clear this season (3 minutes).

Ivy thanks our volunteer Water Reporters for the many ways they have helped us keep watch on the health of the Bay (2½ minutes).

Ivy reflects on what we must do to confront the impacts of climate change on the Bay (2 ½ minutes).

Last but not least, Cathy, Ivy, and Mike explain how our Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund is a game-changer for our work (4 minutes). [We are delighted that we have raised 94% of our $1.5 million goal for the Fund, with the help of many of you. If you have not yet made a contribution to the Fund, help us past the finish line!]

Join us for What is Casco Bay telling us?

This year has been unprecedented. Casco Bay is exhibiting changing conditions that may impact our community, marine heritage, and our economy in years to come.

Join Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, and Staff Scientist Mike Doan for a conversation about what we have been seeing out on the Bay this year, what our data are telling us, and what we, as a community and a state, need to do to address some of the impacts of climate change on the Bay.

On Wednesday, October 21, grab your lunch, log on to Zoom, and join the conversation.

You must register to join this event. We would love you to join us.

Register Now

What: What Casco Bay Is Telling Us: A Casco Bay Matters Event

When: Wednesday, October 21, 12:15 p.m. to 1 p.m.

This event will take place via Zoom. We will send you instructions for joining the event after you register.

Keeping up with the Casco Baykeeper

For Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, the summer has been full of moments of concern and moments of magic.


How was your summer?

Summer means being on the Bay! Staff Scientist Mike Doan and I continued to collect our seasonal data on the health of Casco Bay by land and sea. As we collected water quality data, we had the opportunity to speak with people who rely on the Bay for their livelihoods and deepened our conversations about what we were seeing and how to use our data to shape our advocacy work.

How did the pandemic affect your Baykeeping work this summer?

We kept up with water quality monitoring by limiting crew on our Baykeeper boat, R/V Joseph E. Payne, to just two of us at any one time. We continued to collect hourly data from our Continuous Monitoring Station. We kept up with all water quality monitoring, including responding to the unexpected.

What changed and what we really missed was inviting others out on the boat with us. We love using the boat as our summer office, a way to gather people who can work together to find solutions to problems that impair the health of the Bay. It makes a big difference to view issues from the water and have people aboard with expertise and authority to address problems. We couldn’t do that this year.

What was the most concerning issue you saw this summer?

What stands out was a day in mid-July when we saw a large area of brownish water extending from the mouth of the Royal River. Mike and I thought it might be a phytoplankton bloom. But when we put our sonde in the water, it measured low salinity levels that were startling, extending out almost to Moshier Island. We had captured a stormwater plume from a recent major rainstorm.

What also stands out was how uniformly high water temperatures remained this summer. Broad Cove saw temperatures near 20°C [70°F] and the upper New Meadows River had temperatures between 25-26.5°C [nearly 80°F].

What we saw this summer reaffirmed for me the urgency of our collective work to document change, reduce the causes of climate change, and prepare for its consequences at community, regional, state and national levels.

How about some of your favorite moments of the summer?

There are always moments of astounding beauty on the Bay. Every day on Casco Bay is magical. Watching terns feeding, bald eagles soaring above the boat, leaping sturgeons in a school of bait fish, or the sunlight reflecting like a mirror on the water are moments of magic that underlie why we work to protect this amazing place.

I really enjoyed becoming more deeply connected to our volunteer Water Reporters. Their posts track important issues and give us a great view of what is happening around the Bay. Working with Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman, I spent some socially-distanced time with Water Reporters, following up with them as they tracked algae blooms, marsh conditions, reported pollution, and posted about other changes they were seeing in the Bay. It’s awesome knowing that there is a whole team of people in the community helping with our Baykeeping work.

Conservation Champions

We are delighted to share that Royal River Conservation Trust (RRCT) has selected Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and Friends of Casco Bay as recipients of the Conservation Champion Award. Each year, RRCT selects a person or an organization doing exemplary conservation work for this award.

RRCT presented Cathy and our organization with the Conservation Champion Award at a small gathering* at the Littlejohn Island Preserve in Yarmouth Thursday evening.

In his remarks, RRCT Executive Director Alan Stearns said, “Every time I ask people, ‘How can we do a better job? What else should we be doing? What’s important to you as far as the environment and Maine’s conservation community?’ Overwhelmingly, from the beginning, people say, ‘Do you work with Friends of Casco Bay? I wish you’d work more with Friends of Casco Bay.’ Cathy and I have had discussions over the years. We have had big successes and small successes and we have come to realize our work is complementary.”

Alan then gave beautifully-inscribed wooden paddles representing the Conservation Champion Award to Cathy and to Friends of Casco Bay Board Member Ann Thayer, who has long volunteered as our liaison with RRCT.

Royal River Conservation Trust highlighted Friends of Casco Bay’s work in winning a No Discharge Area status for the Bay and upgrading Clean Water Act classifications for parts of our waters, among the reasons why we are Conservation Champions.

“It takes a community to take care of the Bay,” reflected Cathy, as she accepted the award. “The synergy between the work that Royal River Conservation Trust and all the land trusts around the Bay are doing combined with the work those of us are doing on water quality is really important. When we work together we get so much more done. With climate change impacting our communities, the more we do to inspire good land stewardship, the healthier our coastal waters are going to be. It is our collaboration that gives me hope that together, we can continue to confront the impacts of climate change.”

 

Royal River is one of the five major rivers flowing into the Bay. The river originates in Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester and flows into Casco Bay at Yarmouth. RRTC helps protect the natural, recreational, scenic, agricultural, and historic resources of the Royal River region for current and future generations. Friends of Casco Bay has long monitored water quality in the tidal portion of the Royal and our Continuous Monitoring Station is located in Yarmouth close to the mouth of the river.

Past Conservation Champion Award-winners include Gulf of Maine Research Institute and its President/CEO (and founding President of Friends of Casco Bay!) Don Perkins (2018), and State Senator and former Executive Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Brownie Carson (2019).

 

The RRCT event was a small, socially-distanced outside event. Given the pandemic, here are the precautions we undertook:

  • Everyone at the event wore masks.
  • The event was outside.
  • Except for a few photos during extremely brief periods of time, we were 6 to 20 feet or more away from each other the entire time.
  • The photographer always had a mask on and took all the photos from 6+ feet away.
  • We used hand sanitizer before and after holding the awards together.  
  • And finally, RRTC collected RSVPs of attendees so that in the unlikely event that something did happen, it will be easy to contact trace.

Working with you to Keep Casco Bay Blue

 

We are excited to share a short film made by Knack Factory in honor of our 30th anniversary.

The Knack Factory team joined Friends of Casco Bay staff and volunteers on the water over the course of a week last fall to create a short film about our work.

Knack Factory is a Maine-based creative agency specializing in video production. They are a creative, highly-skilled community of story-tellers. There is no job too big or small (or crazy or weird or impossible) for them to tackle.

Warm winter = early algal blooms

On March 3rd, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca strolled the South Portland shoreline near our office. She was shocked to see green algae growing at the base of the Spring Point seawall. In the past, we have not begun to see widespread nuisance algal blooms until late May or early June. Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman issued an alert to our observing network. Soon, our volunteer Water Reporters were posting images of green algal blooms in coves around the Bay.

What could be fueling these algal blooms so early in the year? Staff Scientist Mike Doan searched for answers by looking at our water quality data. At our Continuous Monitoring Station, the bright green growth did not correspond to a spike in chlorophyll levels, normally associated with a phytoplankton bloom. Our data did show that we have had an extremely warm winter. Heavy rains may have flushed nutrient-laden meltwater into coastal waters weeks earlier than in past years. In fact, just a few days prior to Ivy’s sighting in South Portland, we had an intense rain event. Lengthening daylight and warming temperatures also likely contributed to the emergence of these blooms.

Sarah encourages more people to volunteer as Water Reporters to track these early indicators of excess nitrogen. “Each volunteer can adopt a specific location around the Bay to observe weekly, ideally at low tide, any time between an hour before and after. Images of algae from ‘good’ amounts to ‘concerning’ amounts are helpful because we can’t predict where and when a small patch of algae may become a nuisance algal bloom.”

The blooms we have seen this month are small, but excess nitrogen can stimulate algal growth beyond healthy amounts for the ecosystem. Nuisance algal blooms can cover tidal flats with a thick carpet of “green slime,” smothering animals below the mat and preventing juvenile clams from settling into the mud.

If you are interested in joining our effort to track these blooms, learn more at cascobay.org/water-reporter or call Sarah at (207) 370-7553.