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Maine takes a BIG step forward to address climate change

Photograph by Kevin Morris • Aerial support provided by LightHawk

We have good news to share: on June 19, 2019, the Maine Legislature passed LD 1679, Governor Janet Mills’ bill to establish the Maine Climate Council.

We fervently supported the Governor’s bill because it focuses on the root causes of climate change and recognizes that we must act now to remediate and adapt to inevitable change. The Governor’s bill incorporates many elements of a bipartisan bill that Friends of Casco Bay and the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification (MOCA) partnership championed: LD 1284: An Act To Create a Science and Policy Advisory Council on the Impacts of Climate Change on Maine’s Marine Species. Many Friends like you contacted the Legislature in support of that bill.

Ivy Frignoca, Casco Baykeeper and the coordinator of MOCA, says, “We could not be more excited about the Governor’s Climate Council bill. It takes on the herculean but necessary task of drastically reducing carbon emissions while setting up a council with subgroups of experts to help us address and adapt to inevitable changes. As the voice of Casco Bay, we strongly commend those portions of the bill that address the impacts of climate change — including ocean acidification — on Maine’s iconic marine resources.”

The Governor’s bill establishes six working groups, including a Coastal and Marine Working Group and a Scientific and Technical Working Group. We anticipate that many of the aspects of our collective efforts to address coastal and ocean acidification will be addressed by these groups. To aid that process, Friends of Casco Bay, as coordinator of MOCA, will meet with other partnership members this summer to create a marine climate change action plan. We look forward to sharing that plan with the Governor’s Council and will stand ready to serve as a resource to the Council.

Aquaculturists, resource harvesters, and lobstermen supported passage of this legislation. Bill Mook, owner of Mook Sea Farm, says “For those of us whose livelihoods are so tightly linked to a healthy environment, the passage of Governor Mill’s climate bill has rekindled hope. We must now show the rest of America how the path to a clean energy future will not only lead us to a healthier environment, but it will also take us to a vibrant, inclusive, and healthy economic future.”

Richard Nelson from Friendship, Maine, applauds the positive approach the state is taking on climate change, “As a lobsterman and, at times, spokesman for climate’s ill effects on the ocean’s realm, I would readily shed that position as harbinger and turn instead to being a participant in the real actions to combat it, as put forth in the Governor’s bill.”

The comprehensive bill sets tough goals to reduce Maine’s carbon footprint. It provides that by 2050, Maine must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% and get 100% of our electricity from renewable sources. The bill sets a pathway for achieving the goals in a statewide plan in order to turn these targets into actions. At a time when the federal administration is resistant to exploring mitigation and resiliency efforts, Maine is joining a growing number of states taking the lead to address climate change to collectively make a difference.

Governor Mills is expected to have a signing ceremony for the bill soon, and the Climate Council will likely begin its work this fall.

Mike and Ivy on the Boat

Casco Bay Matters: Advancing the conversation—and action—on climate change

Mike and Ivy on the Boat

Living close to the ocean, Casco Bay residents are witnessing the effects of climate change happening here now: warming water temperatures, increasing ocean acidity, and more severe storms. We too are seeing the changes in our data and when we are out on the Bay.

From April through October, our Research Associate Mike Doan and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca are on the Bay frequently to monitor water quality, follow up on pollution reports, or meet with partners on issues best understood from the water. Their vigilance gives them a firsthand view of changes happening in our coastal waters.

Mike, Ivy, and Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell shared these and other observations in our first-ever Casco Bay Matters series. Nearly 400 people attended Ocean Acidification, Climate Change and You presentations about what we are learning about a changing Casco Bay.

They shared how Mainers are working together to shape policies and actions to respond to these threats. Ivy is coordinating the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification partnership, a diverse coalition of scientists, lawmakers, aquaculturalists, and seafood harvesters, who collaborate on research and strategies to confront the threats that climate change and acidification pose to Maine’s marine resources. We also are working with legislators to pass a bill to create a state-sponsored Science and Policy Advisory Council on the Impact of Climate Change on Maine’s Marine Species.

Video Recordings of Casco Bay Matters:

Casco Bay Matters Intro Video

If you missed our Casco Bay Matters presentations of Ocean Acidification, Climate Change and You, you are in luck — our stalwart volunteer Deb Dawson recorded and edited videos of our South Portland (March 25, 2019) event. See the series of three videos on our YouTube channel.

Highlights from Casco Bay Matters:

Warmer waters: Friends of Casco Bay has been tracking water temperatures for over a quarter century. On average, water temperatures in Casco Bay have risen 2.5°F (1.4°C) since 1993. The growth, reproduction, and survival of marine life are influenced by temperature.

Rising Water Temperatures in Casco Bay

More carbon dioxide in our coastal waters from air and from land: We know that burning fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, trapping heat and warming the planet. Nearly 30% of atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean. Carbon dioxide mixes with water to form carbonic acid, making the water more acidic. This is ocean acidification.

Maine’s nearshore waters are also at risk from coastal acidification. Excess nitrogen from sewage treatment plants, polluted stormwater, and fertilizers can stimulate massive algal growth. When the algal blooms die, decomposition depletes the area of lifegiving oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, further acidifying the water.

Threats to the ocean food web: More carbon dioxide in our waters means less shell-building material (calcium carbonate) for clams, mussels, and planktonic creatures that support the ocean food chain. Data from our Continuous Monitoring Station enable us to calculate the calcium carbonate saturation state — what scientists term omega aragonite — which can tell us whether, at any given time, enough calcium carbonate is readily available to shell-building creatures. Shell formation becomes more difficult for some species when the amount of available calcium carbonate falls below a 1.5 aragonite saturation state.

Our data indicate that for part of the year, levels of calcium carbonate in Casco Bay fall below the threshold for optimal shell-building for some species.

Sea level rise: As water warms, it expands, and the seas encroach on our coastline. Coastal observers and property owners are reporting more erosion.

Increasing precipitation: Maine has seen a six-inch rise in average annual precipitation since 1895, further threatening coastal properties. Torrential rains intensify erosion and flush overloads of nitrogen, pollutants, and sediments into coastal waters.

Those who depend upon the sea can attest to the fast pace of change. What do these changes mean for Casco Bay?

  • As oceans become more acidic, we can anticipate more pitting or thinning of the shells of many commercially viable species in Casco Bay, such as clams, mussels, and oysters.
  • Voracious green crabs — which eat juvenile shellfish — thrive in warming waters.
  • Rising water temperatures are linked with shell disease in crustaceans, directly impacting Maine’s iconic lobster fishery.
  • Scientists and lobstermen are documenting lobster populations shifting north and east.
  • Copepods, tiny crustaceans that are the main food source for juvenile lobsters, may not be as plump as they once were. In laboratory experiments that simulate climate changes now happening in the Gulf of Maine, copepods were less fatty. With a less nutritious diet, young lobsters must divert energy from growth and resisting disease to finding enough food to survive.

Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, and You

Climate Change Science and Data

  • 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

Warmer Waters

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.

Increasing Precipitation

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?

  • Research Associate Mike Doan with our Continuous Monitoring Station. The Station houses a number of instruments that collect data on carbon dioxide, temperature, salinity, oxygen, chlorophyll, and pH, hourly, 365 days a year. This large quantity of data is necessary to accurately track changes in the Bay from climate change, including ocean and coastal acidification.

    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.
  • Join Water Reporter. Your observations combined with those of other volunteers around the Bay will provide a better understanding of changing conditions.  

References

  1. T.A. Boden, R.J. Andres, G. Marland, Global, Regional, and National Fossil-Fuel CO2 Emissions, Research Institute for Environment, Energy, and Economics, Appalachian State University, 2017. https://cdiac.ess-dive.lbl.gov/trends/emis/overview_2014.html
  2. N. Gruber, D. Clement, R. Feely, et al., The oceanic sink for anthropogenic CO2 from 1994 to 2007, Science, 2019. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/363/6432/1193
  3. J. Weiss, Marine Pollution: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford University Press, 2015.
  4. I. Fernandez, C. Schmitt, E. Stancioff, et al., Maine’s Climate Future: 2015 Update, The University of Maine, 2015. https://mco.umaine.edu/pubs/pdf/mcf-2015.pdf
  5. J. Ekstrom, L. Suatoni, S. Cooley, et al., Vulnerability and adaptation of US shellfisheries to ocean acidification, Nature, 2015. http://pacshell.org/pdf/Ekstrom_etal2015.pdf
  6. E. Tan, B, Beal, Interactions between the invasive European green crab, Carcinus maenas, and juveniles of the soft-shell clam, Mya arenaria, in eastern Maine, USA, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 2015. https://downeastinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/tan-beal-2015.pdf
  7. Copepods cope with acidification, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, 2018. https://www.bigelow.org/news/articles/2018-04-10.html

How we work with you to keep Casco Bay blue

Casco Bay belongs to all of us. In 2019, we at Friends of Casco Bay are continuing our commitment to building a sense of shared ownership throughout our community, to help protect the health of this incredible resource. We see water as fundamental habitat and work to ensure that public policies keep the importance of the health of the Bay in mind.

Our community engagement opportunities provide a wide array of activities for citizens to assist us in our work and to advocate for the health of Casco Bay. For us, advocacy is about relationship building. We work to find common ground.

We pursue policies, laws, and limits based on sound science. Our advocacy efforts take place in many forums—from town halls to the halls of the State House to Washington, D.C. Sometimes, we protect the health of the Bay using education, convincing one homeowner or business at a time to change their practices. Other times, especially on regional or more complex problems, we advocate for the enforcement of existing laws and for the creation of new laws or ordinances. We look forward to working with you this year.

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.

The looming question for the future— How is Casco Bay changing?

Photograph by Kevin Morris • Aerial support provided by LightHawk

We see water itself as fundamental habitat. When water quality deteriorates, eelgrass, plankton, clams, and other marine creatures suffer. Thanks to our 25-year data set on water quality in Casco Bay, we now have a better overall understanding of the health of the Bay. We understand when and which areas of the Bay are likely to exhibit challenged water quality conditions.

Armed with this baseline data, we can now begin to address the question How is the Bay changing?—thus, the establishment last year of our first automated Continuous Monitoring Station. We will also continue to monitor selected sites at the surface, to supplement the historical data set compiled by our Citizen Stewards Program. And, we will look more intensively, using surface-to-bottom transects, at those regions of the Bay which present challenged conditions. New data and observations may help us begin to understand how climate change, excess nitrogen, and the changing chemistry of Casco Bay may be impacting the ocean food web.

Our Nabbing Nitrogen event in 2016 signaled to us that there is a huge reservoir of goodwill from people who want to help protect the health of the Bay and are willing to do that in short bursts of data collection efforts. We foresee new volunteer opportunities in this type of data collection, as well as in expanding other community service projects, such as coastal clean-ups, storm drain stenciling efforts, and issue-education events to inspire Champions for the Bay.

Citizen Steward volunteers will continue to be key to our organization as they help us move into this next phase of work to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Casco Bay belongs to all of us, and this Bay is fortunate to have so many Friends.

Cathy L Ramsdell, CPA, CGMA
Executive Director

Cathy Ramsdell Interview

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

Stormwater: the Largest Source of Pollution into Casco Bay

Presumscot River Creates a Brown Bay
A wedge of polluted fresh water floats on top of Casco Bay.

MS4. Unless you are a civil engineer or a municipal public works director charged with dealing with discharge permits, you may not know that “MS4” stands for municipal separate storm sewer systems (called MS4 because “s” is repeated four times). An MS4 is a system of storm drains, pipes, or ditches that collect and carry stormwater, untreated, into our waterways (not to a sewage treatment facility).

To reduce stormwater pollution, the Clean Water Act requires larger cities and towns to develop an MS4 plan that includes six Minimum Control Measures: public education, public involvement and participation, illicit discharge
detection and elimination (finding and eliminating sources of contamination that improperly enter the pipes), construction measures designed to reduce stormwater pollution, post construction inspections to ensure compliance, and municipal pollution prevention practices.

MS4 permits for these plans must be renewed every five years. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca is participating in the stakeholder process initiated by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, as it drafts the next MS4 permit.
You may have noticed that storms are more intesne, and the pollutants that rainstorms are flushing into the Bay are increasing dramatically. After one heavy rainstorm, we found a wedge of polluted stormwater 18 feet deep floating on top of seawater in Portland Harbor. Ivy worries,“Imagine what it would be like for a fish trying to navigate through that toxic mix of oil and gas from city streets, pesticides, bacteria, and nitrogen pollution from sewage and fertilizers!”

Ivy says, “The goal is to improve water quality and reduce nitrogen inputs and other pollutants. Reviewing and commenting on drafts of the next MS4 permit gives us an opportunity to help reduce the impacts of the largest source of pollution into Casco Bay.”

Storm Drain Stenciling

Friends of Casco Bay Volunteers Take to the Streets—and the Beach

This past summer, volunteers undertook several community service projects to help keep Casco Bay clean. Thank you to TD Green Team, the Leadership Development Program at Windsor Mountain Summer Camp, IDEXX, and Yelp for cleaning up our coastline. Thank you to Bowdoin Women’s lacrosse team, RBC, and Mark Edwards and Jane Braun for stenciling storm drains!

Continuous Monitoring Station

Monitoring a Changing Casco Bay 365 Days a Year

Continuous Monitoring Station
When we haul up the Continuous Monitoring Station to download data and recalibrate the equipment, we also track marine creatures that may have found a home on our “cage of science.”

Covered with sea squirts, sea stars, and other marine hitchhikers, the newest member of our monitoring team looks like an abandoned lobster trap. It may be homely, but we are pretty impressed with what it does, collecting water quality data hourly, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is our Continuous Monitoring Station, which will help us answer the question “How are our coastal waters changing over time?” Research Associate Mike Doan calls it “the cage of science.”

It has been just over a year since we placed a carbon dioxide sensor and a data sonde—an electronic device that records temperature, pH, and other characteristics of water quality—inside this modified lobster trap and moored it in healthy waters near the center of Casco Bay off Cousins Island in Yarmouth.

After one full year, we have over 8,760 hours of data on oxygen levels, carbon dioxide, pH (the level of acidity of the water), salinity, temperature, chlorophyll fluorescence (estimated phytoplankton abundance), water clarity, and water depth.

Thanks to our 26-year data set on water quality in Casco Bay, we understand when and which areas of the Bay are likely to exhibit challenged water quality conditions that require further study. Armed with this baseline data, we can now consider how to address the question, How is the Bay changing?

The steady flow of data from the Station already is helping us detect and document how climate change and emerging coastal stressors may be affecting the Bay. Hourly data helps us identify daily, seasonal,
and annual trends to better understand the extent to which ocean acidification may be impacting the water chemistry of Casco Bay. In future years, we hope to deploy two more “cages of science,” one in challenged waters in Portland Harbor and one near Harpswell to help detect the influence the Kennebec River has on Eastern Casco Bay.

What is a data sonde?
A data sonde, such as the one being used by Research Associate Mike Doan, is an oceanographic
monitoring instrument that takes multiple measurements of water quality simultaneously. In
addition to being used as part of our Continuous Monitoring Station, data sondes are used by
staff scientists in other water quality monitoring efforts from shore and by boat. The data is
downloaded to a computer and analyzed to provide a long-term picture of water quality over
time. We thank Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and our generous members for helping fund
our Continuous Monitoring Station’s first year.

 

Casco Bay: Then and Now

THEN—Sewage, Sappi, and oil spills

Early on in our history, Friends of Casco Bay confronted the fact that millions of gallons of raw sewage emptied into Casco Bay each year from overflowing sewer pipes. Sewage from boats was also a concern, leading us to establish a marine toilet pumpout service for recreational boats. Our advocacy for regulations to prevent cruise ships from discharging polluted water right at the dock helped make Casco Bay one of the most protected bays in the nation from vessel sewage and other wastewater.

We battled pollution on many fronts, all while building an organization based on scientific credibility and a “work with” approach. By pushing to enforce existing environmental regulations, we helped to eliminate the biggest source of pollution to Casco Bay—pulp wastes from the Westbrook paper mill. This wastewater sucked the oxygen from the Presumpscot River and delivered toxic water to Casco Bay.

As one of the busiest oil delivery ports on the East Coast, Portland needed to prepare for the very real possibility of an oil spill. Friends of Casco Bay lobbied for more training and cleanup equipment. This preparation enabled responders to recover 78% of the 180,000 gallons of oil spilled when the Julie N tanker hit the Casco Bay Bridge in 1996.

To learn about pollution in the past, click here.

NOW—Nitrogen pollution, ocean acidification, and sinking oil—threats we didn’t even think about a generation ago

Today, Casco Bay faces new challenges. Our research shows that parts of Casco Bay are acidic enough to dissolve juvenile clams. The cause? Carbon dioxide from emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks and nitrogen pollution from sewage discharges, fertilizers, and stormwater runoff. Excess nitrogen triggers algae blooms that result in more carbon dioxide and less oxygen in seawater.

We are again warning that Portland Harbor needs to be better prepared for an oil spill, including spills of heavy crude oils, which may sink to the bottom of the Bay, making our current cleanup tools ineffective.

We often say, “Think local, act local”, a mantra that we find ourselves using more and more, as local communities become the change agents for environmental activism/progress to combat pollution and climate change. We help municipalities craft ordinances on pesticides, plastics, stormwater pollution, and other issues that later are adopted by neighboring cities and towns.

While our focus remains Casco Bay, we recognize that global climate change threatens every water body, and indeed, every individual on the planet. The impact of rising seas, warming water, and acidifying oceans is truly a game changer, creating environmental and social challenges faster than anyone anticipated.