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.
As many Friends of the Bay know, over the past 22 years, Associate Director Mary Cerullo has been our writer-in-residence, our media maven, the developer of our Casco Bay Curriculum, our lead ambassador for BayScaping, and a key team member in our community relations work. If you attended one of our events in the past two decades, it is likely that you were greeted by Mary’s smiling face. Her warmth, collegiality, and talents have been essential to our work.
Mary is beginning a new chapter in her life. She will retire from Friends of Casco Bay at the end of this week. Casco Bay is a better, more protected place thanks to Mary’s efforts. Mary helped launch our BayScaping program to keep lawn care chemicals out of the Bay. She also developed the Casco Bay Curriculum to make our water quality data accessible to educators and local schools.
“What I’m most proud of is our work to make Casco Bay a No Discharge Area,” says Mary. “I helped organize a public forum on cruise ship pollution in 2002.” The public outcry against ships dumping their waste into the Bay led to the first federal No Discharge Area designation in Maine.
“I never imagined I would work here for so long. It’s been the people—my work colleagues and all of our community members—who have inspired me and kept me excited about this work,” says Mary, reflecting on her tenure here.
Mary plans to stay busy. She is already working on her next book. She also looks forward to travels with her husband Arthur and to more time with her grandchildren. As Mary turns the page, all of us at Friends of Casco Bay wish her a happy retirement.
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 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 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).
Our 2019 priority legislative bill to create a state-funded Climate Change and Ocean Acidification Commission was integrated into the Governor’s comprehensive Climate Change bill. An Act to Promote Clean Energy Jobs and to Establish the Maine Climate Council passed with strong bipartisan support. With Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca in attendance, Governor Janet Mills signed the bill into law on June 26, 2019.
Our Casco Baykeeper has been asked to serve as a member of the Council’s Coastal and Marine Working Group. It is a tribute to the work that Ivy has devoted to nurturing and coordinating the volunteer Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification (MOCA) partnership, which she and Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell helped formally launch in 2016.
In 2019, Friends of Casco Bay received a grant to enable MOCA to draft an action plan to address the impact of climate change on Maine’s marine species. Recommendations from that effort will help the newly-created Climate Council as it drafts its five-year plan of action.
Ivy reflected, “The creation of the Maine Climate Council marks the culmination of five years of efforts to bring attention to the threats of ocean and coastal acidification to our marine ecology and economy. Concerned Mainers built a coalition that is helping to provide the groundwork for the new Administration’s work plan on ocean climate change.”
Summer is going swimmingly here at Friends of Casco Bay, and we have a lot of good news to share:
Our priority legislative bill to create a state-level Climate Change and Ocean Acidification Council was incorporated nearly word-for-word into the Governor’s comprehensive Climate Change Council bill. An Act to Promote Clean Energy Jobs and to Establish the Maine Climate Council passed with strong bipartisan support. In recognition of her yeoman’s work on this issue, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca was invited to attend the bill signing by Governor Janet Mills on June 26th.
Our water quality sampling season is well underway, as we continue to add to our long-term dataset at 22 shoreside and deepwater sites around the Bay. You may see Research Associate Mike Doan and Casco Baykeeper Ivy making the rounds by land and by sea every few weeks from April through October.
July 20 marks the third anniversary of the launch of our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth. Our Monitoring Station is fondly nicknamed the “Cage of Science” because its high-tech sensors are housed inside a transformed lobster trap. The instruments measure temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH, and carbon dioxide.
Together, they collect data once an hour, every hour, year round. At this time of year, Mike has to scrape off a new array of marine hitchhikers whenever he hauls up the Cage of Science to download data.
‘Tis the season to think about what not to put on your lawn! With five workshops behind her, Associate Director Mary Cerullo has scheduled another five BayScaping presentations for August and beyond. She is happy to talk with neighborhood groups about green yards and a blue Bay.
There has been such a demand by community groups to volunteer for coastal cleanups and storm drain stenciling projects that Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman and summer intern Alexis Burns have been very busy. They already have hosted seven events with 106 participants who collected an estimated 238 lbs. of trash and stenciled 238 storm drains!
Our new pumpout boat, Headmaster, was launched on June 10th to pump raw sewage from the marine toilets of recreational boats. Captain Jim Splude, our congenial pumpout boat coordinator, can go about his business more efficiently now with a new boat that has more than twice the holding capacity of the old one.
Our Water Reporter volunteer project is expanding as we hoped and planned. Nearly 40 enthusiastic volunteers attended our Water Reporter training on June 24. Volunteers continue to sign up to keep watch over specific areas of the Bay.
July 10 was the first anniversary of Friends of Casco Bay’s launch of the Water Reporter app. To date, 162 volunteers in this observing network have made more than 500 posts. We call that a great start!
The climate is changing faster than expected. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are the culprits. The burning of fossil fuels for homes, industry, and transportation releases almost 10,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. 1
Carbon dioxide is changing not only our climate, but also the chemistry of the ocean. About 30% of the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean. 2 In marine water, carbon dioxide decreases pH and increases acidity through a process known as ocean acidification.
Excess nitrogen from sewage treatment plants, polluted stormwater, and fertilizers, is also adding carbon dioxide into nearshore waters through a process known as coastal acidification. 3
Nitrogen can fertilize massive algal growth in our waters. When the algal blooms die, decomposition depletes the area of life-giving oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, acidifying the water.
The impacts of climate change are evident right here in Casco Bay
Friends of Casco Bay has been tracking water temperatures for over 25 years. On average, our data show a 2.5° F increase in water temperatures since 1993.
Sea Level Rise
As water warms, it expands, and the sea encroaches on our coastline. Coastal observers and property owners are reporting an increase in erosion.
Maine has seen a six-inch average increase in annual precipitation since 1895, further threatening coastal properties. 4
Threats to the Ocean Food Web
More carbon dioxide in our waters means there is less shell-building material (calcium carbonate) for clams, mussels and oysters, as well as for tiny critters at the base of the ocean food chain. The saturation state of calcium carbonate is a key measurement of shell-building material for many organisms. Shell formation becomes more difficult when the amount of available calcium carbonate falls below a 1.5 saturation state. 5 Our recent data indicate that for nearly half the year, levels of calcium carbonate in Casco Bay are not sufficient for shell-building.
What do these changes mean for Casco Bay?
As marine waters become more acidic, we can anticipate more pitting or dissolution of the shells of many commercially viable species in Casco Bay.
Rising water temperatures are linked with shell disease, directly impacting our lobster fishery and tourism industries.
Climate change is bad news for clams because green crabs — which eat juvenile shellfish — thrive in warming waters. 6
The distribution and populations of marine species in the Gulf of Maine are shifting. Scientists and lobstermen are documenting the shift in distribution of Maine’s iconic lobsters north and east.
Copepods are tiny crustaceans that are the main food source for juvenile lobsters. In laboratory experiments, copepods raised in conditions that simulate the climate changes occurring in the Gulf of Maine were less fatty. With a less healthful diet, young lobsters must divert energy from growth and resisting disease to finding enough food to survive. 7
What is Friends of Casco Bay doing?
We helped form the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) to coordinate climate change research and policy change work. MOCA is a diverse coalition of researchers, policy experts, lawmakers, aquaculturalists, and seafood harvesters. We are working to create an action plan for Maine to protect the health of our coastal waters.
LD 1284 has been selected by the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a group of 34 environmental organizations, as one of its five priority bills to address climate change in Maine.
Our Water Reporter volunteers are recording observations of how the Bay is changing. These observations strengthen our advocacy efforts as these reports are shared with regulators, legislators, and other decision makers, alerting them to conditions in the Bay.
What can you do?
Tell your legislators to support LD 1284 to create a science and policy advisory council to address the impacts of climate change on Maine’s marine species.
Friends of Casco Bay has been described as the “eyes and ears of the Bay.” Hearing what others have to say about protecting the health of Casco Bay is part of our job. With the extreme positions that some people are staking out these days, listening sometimes seems to be a forgotten art.
Says Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, “Our advocacy efforts are based on a ‘work with’ approach to solving environmental problems. Rather than being adversarial, we prefer to collaborate with community members, local businesses, and decision makers, to find solutions that are both environmentally sound and economically viable.”
“We will always come down on the side of what’s best for the Bay,” affirms Cathy. “And we truly believe that most people in Maine feel that way as well.”
Here are some of our recent efforts to find the middle ground that best serves the waters of Casco Bay:
Friends of Casco Bay’s Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland has recruited, trained, and nurtured hundreds of EPA-certified water quality monitors. Peter also supervised dozens of high school and college interns, many of whom have been inspired by their association with us to pursue careers in the environmental sciences.
Peter’s volunteers universally laud him for his patience, warmth, and caring oversight to ensure that their data can stand up to any scientific scrutiny. That data has provided an overall appraisal of the health of the Bay over 25 years and is helping us identify new questions that need to be addressed in the future.
As a scientist, Peter conducted his own research with as much exactitude as he generated from his volunteers, earning great respect from colleagues, regulators, and researchers alike. As Friends of Casco Bay’s boat captain, his mechanical acumen and vigilant care sustained our Baykeeper vessels for over two decades. His piloting skill always brought them home safely through fog, ice, and growling seas.
Captain Peter will continue to sail on Casco Bay as he embarks on his newest venture: ecotourism. You may see him aboard his new boat, Pamela B, teaching residents and visitors alike about what makes Casco Bay the special place he has worked to protect for more than 22 years.
We sincerely thank him and wish him Bon Voyage, on many levels!