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distress flare, marine flare billowing orange smoke on water surface

Got Flares? Expired Marine Flare Disposal Day on Saturday, April 13

If you’re a boater with expired or used marine flares lying around, please don’t toss them in the trash or ocean. Dispose of marine flares properly with the help of the Maine Fire Marshal and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Expired Marine Flare Disposal Day, Saturday, April 13, 2024

Expired Marine Flare Disposal Day
Saturday, April 13
9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
At three Hamilton Marine stores: Portland, Rockland and Searsport

Commercial and recreational boat owners are aware of the safety requirement to have visual distress signals on their boats. Most often, pyrotechnic marine flares are used to meet this need. But marine flares must be replaced with new ones 42 months after the date of manufacture. Unfortunately, disposing of expired flares is challenging.

Pyrotechnic flares contain perchlorates, chemicals that can quickly dissolve and contaminate ground and surface water. They are known to cause reproductive problems and the EPA considers them a carcinogen. Because they are a hazardous waste, flares cannot be disposed of in household garbage. Fortunately, Maine has authorized the State Fire Marshal to collect flares and dispose of them properly.

On Saturday, April 13, the Maine State Fire Marshal and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary are hosting a disposal day in partnership with Hamilton Marine. You can drop off your expired flares at three locations:

In the parking lot, look for Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel, who will assist you.


You can also dispose of used and expired marine flares at Chase, Leavitt & Co. and Landing Boat Supply using their year-round flares dropbox, to be picked up by the Maine Fire Marshal. They will also be holding a week-long Open House with water safety demonstrations, a food truck, music, and more during the week of April 8-13Chase, Leavitt & Co is located at 84 Cove St Portland, ME.

Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper Eelgrass

Join us for Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Eelgrass

Join us on Thursday, April 25 for our last Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper event of the season. This time we’ll be talking about our eelgrass pilot project.

Like coral reefs, eelgrass meadows provide a variety of critical services for our oceans and planet:

Eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay declined in size by 54 percent between 2018-2022, a loss described as “staggering” by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in a January 2023 report. Many factors can contribute to loss of eelgrass. Nitrogen pollution is one of them, and unlike other contributing factors such as warming water temperatures, the amount of nitrogen in the Bay can be controlled at a local level. Photo credit: Steve Karpiak

• Nursery habitat for fish, lobster, horseshoe crabs, and other shellfish
• Vital food source for birds and fish
• Stabilizes sediments, reducing erosion
• Raises pH levels and buffers the effects of ocean acidification
• Carbon capture, helping reduce the effect of climate change

We became alarmed when we learned that 54% of this critical habitat had disappeared between 2018 and 2022. This year we are partnering with other groups to launch an eelgrass pilot project to better understand what’s happening and explore how to restore eelgrass habitats. This is a collaborative project between Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Friends of Casco Bay, Manomet, and Team Zostera.

On Thursday, April 25, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. grab a cup of coffee and hop online to join Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley for an early morning conversation about our eelgrass pilot project. Whether you’re cozy on your couch, doing your morning routine, or listening on your phone while you walk the dog, join us for this informative event.

What: Coffee with the Casco BaykeeperPFAS
When: Thursday, April 25, 8:00 to 8:45 a.m.
Where: Zoom, Register here to receive a link to attend



PFAS can be found in many common products

10 Things We’ve Learned About PFAS in Casco Bay

Concerns about PFAS have surfaced as more of Maine’s lands and waters are tested. Before 2023, no one had gathered samples from the marine waters of Casco Bay yet. Last year, Friends of Casco Bay and Bigelow Laboratories for Ocean Sciences partnered up to test for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Casco Bay. We’ve gathered the results from our first year of samples and have learned some interesting things about PFAS along the way. 

1. We found PFAS at all 18 sites we sampled in Casco Bay in 2023 but the levels were low. While there is no official standard for marine waters, all of our samples were lower than state drinking water standards. Maine’s drinking water standards require less than 20 nanograms per liter (a billionth of a gram) of PFAS. The highest level we found was at just 10 nanograms. PFAS levels appeared to dilute quickly at sites further offshore.

Casco Bay PFAS samples 2023
Friends of Casco Bay and Bigelow Laboratories for Ocean Sciences conducted six months of PFAS sampling in Casco Bay in 2023, finding low levels of PFAS at all 18 sites.

2. Research shows PFAS to have serious and long-term health consequences, including increased risk for kidney or testicular cancer, liver damage, high cholesterol, pregnancy complications, decreased fertility, lower birth weight in infants, and other potential health risks.* We know that PFAS-contaminated seafood affects human health so our sampling efforts in Casco Bay can help us better understand the risks. 


PFAS can be found in many common products

3. PFAS have been manufactured since the 1940s. They are used to make products durable and resistant to water, flames, and stains. PFAS can be found in a wide range of products — microwave popcorn bags, candy wrappers, camping gear, smartphones, pesticides, yoga pants, cosmetics, cleaning products, shampoo — the list goes on. It can feel a bit overwhelming. 



4. PFAS really are “forever chemicals.” Two of the top PFAS suspects, PFOA and PFOS showed up in higher concentrations at our Casco Bay test sites than any of the other PFAS compounds, even though these two were phased out in the US by 2016. This demonstrates just how persistent these chemicals are and the importance of bans.


5.  It’s still safe for a lobster bake. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection collected and analyzed American lobster meat from across the coast of Maine in 2021.** Half of the sites had no detectable PFOS in lobster meat, while the rest showed very low concentrations that should not pose a risk to your next lobster feast. PFAS levels also tested low and are considered safe for Maine’s soft-shell clams, striped bass, and bluefish.**


6. Things are a bit fishy on the lower Presumpscot River. Maine CDC recommends anglers consume only four meals per year of any fish caught from the lower Presumpscot River due to PFAS.***


7. We dressed up special for the occasion. To avoid contaminating our samples, our scientists had to wear special clothing that didn’t contain any PFAS. We also had to stop using Sharpie markers and the write-in-the-rain paper we typically use because they both contain PFAS. Bigelow Laboratories has also developed very specific protocols in their labs for analyzing samples and is now certified to test water and sediment samples for PFAS for the state. 


8. We’re looking for specific sources. For this next round of sampling in 2024, we’ll take our boat and PFAS sampling kits to 71 sites around Casco Bay and the watershed to better understand how PFAS are entering our waters. This information will help Maine’s state agencies protect local water quality.


9. Maine is taking action. In 2021, Maine passed groundbreaking bipartisan legislation banning all nonessential uses of PFAS in products used in Maine, some of the most stringent PFAS regulations in the country. 


10. You can be part of the solution too. We believe the best way to address the PFAS crisis is to enact regulations that limit or eliminate PFAS at the manufacturing level. You can support legislation requiring manufacturers to report their use of PFAS and oppose bills that move us backward. For example, right now there is a proposal we’ve testified against that would exempt agricultural pesticides from reporting requirements and the ban on PFAS until 2030. Until better regulations go into effect, here are some things consumers can do to reduce their PFAS exposure.  


Want to know more about PFAS in Casco Bay? Watch this video of our Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper webinar to hear a casual conversation on this complex topic with Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley. 

Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper PFAS video



More Information:

Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper webinar on PFAS

Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: PFAS video

Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: PFAS video

In this video from our Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper series, Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley have a casual early morning conversation about our partnership with Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences to sample for PFAS in Casco Bay. Ivy shares insights from what we learned during our first year of PFAS monitoring in Casco Bay. Sara and Ivy also talk about what’s next in 2024.

PFAS are chemicals that are used in a wide variety of products from clothing to firefighting foam. They break down slowly so they build up in our environment and are detrimental to human health. Last year, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Friends of Casco Bay partnered as we conducted the first study of PFAS in the waters of Casco Bay. Ivy will share an overview of PFAS monitoring at Friends of Casco Bay’s seasonal sites in 2023. Sara and Ivy will then talk about our more extensive plans to monitor the Bay and lower watershed for PFAS in 2024. All of this work is in collaboration with Bigelow Laboratory scientists, who developed the protocols and are analyzing the samples. We are excited to share our plans with you and how the data will help further our understanding of the health of our waters.

PFAS Sampling Results in Casco Bay

From the deck of our Casco Baykeeper boat R/V Joseph E. Payne, science staff from our organization and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences collected more than 100 PFAS samples at 18 sites across Casco Bay in 2023.

This is the most complete dataset yet of the concentrations of PFAS pollutants, so-called forever chemicals, in the waters of Casco Bay. Their results show widespread — but not alarming — levels of several of these chemicals across the region, highlighting the need for more research into the sources of PFAS and their possible impacts on the marine environment.

The first step in monitoring PFAS in Casco Bay

The results of this effort mark the first step of a multi-year, collaborative project to provide much-needed information on sources of these toxic chemicals and impacts to the coastal environment.

PFAS, which stands for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have received significant attention in recent years, particularly in Maine. The state has emerged as a national leader in monitoring and regulating this persistent and commonly-used family of chemicals. However, until now, little had been done to track PFAS levels in Casco Bay’s marine waters.

A dynamic partnership

The latest results are the first phase of a multi-year study led by Bigelow Laboratory Senior Research Scientist Christoph Aeppli, Ph.D., in collaboration with Friends of Casco Bay staff. In 2023, the team collected water samples at Friends of Casco Bay’s seasonal monitoring sites. This year, the team plans to build upon this preliminary dataset to better understand the primary sources of PFAS into Casco Bay’s water and coastal sediment. That information, in turn, will help state agencies protect local water quality and respond to potential changes in federal regulations.

“We are delighted to partner with Bigelow Laboratory and their top-notch scientists,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “The data we are collecting will complement existing monitoring of shellfish and fish tissues and discharges from wastewater treatment plants to give us a more complete understanding of PFAS levels in the Bay and whether there are areas that pose risks to the health of our waters and to people.”

As Dr. Aeppli notes, “PFAS compounds can travel through water, and we clearly have many different pathways for these chemicals to enter our waterways and flow into the estuary, including both small but powerful sources and widespread, diffuse sources.” Ivy offers, “Based on one year of study with six sampling events, we did not find alarming levels of certain PFAS compounds and cannot yet draw any conclusions from these results.” This year’s follow-up study will hone in on potential land-based sources.

Six months of sampling data from sites around Casco Bay were collected in 2023 by Bigelow Laboratory and Friends of Casco Bay scientists.
Six months of sampling data from sites around Casco Bay were collected in 2023 by Bigelow Laboratory and Friends of Casco Bay scientists.

Low levels of PFAS found at all sites

PFAS were detected at all of the study’s monitoring sites. There is no safety standard for PFAS in marine waters, but all levels were below current state drinking water regulations. The levels appeared to dilute as offshore measurements were lower than those closer to shore.

The study did find elevated levels close to known sources, including the Brunswick Naval Air Station, an EPA Superfund site since 1987. Those levels decreased quickly further offshore. Levels were comparatively low in the waters around the heavily urbanized Portland area.

“Before, we didn’t even know how much PFAS there was or how long it takes to dilute in the water, and now we’ve identified some clear patterns across Casco Bay,” Dr. Aeppli said. “We can use that insight to begin a more in-depth study on the contributions of individual sources.”

The 2023 study was funded by Maine Sea Grant. All the samples were processed in Dr. Aeppli’s lab at Bigelow with a method capable of detecting 40 different PFAS compounds at concentrations akin to a single pinch of salt in a swimming pool.

The next phase will look at specific sources of PFAS

With a better understanding of the basic distribution and levels of PFAS across Casco Bay, Friends of Casco Bay and Bigelow Laboratory can now begin to focus on identifying the contributions of specific sources. They will also sample sediments to understand how these chemicals are accumulating in the near-shore environment. These efforts, which will continue through 2025, are supported, in part, by funding from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Conversations with the public about PFAS

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Science and Advocacy Associate Heather Kenyon are leading a stakeholder process to discuss results and hone the selection of monitoring sites for further study. The stakeholders include experts working across fields such as wastewater and stormwater management and shellfish health.

“We are grateful for Bigelow Laboratory’s leadership and partnership,” said Executive Director Will Everitt. “By working together with Chris Aeppli and his team this year, we can do a deeper dive into how PFAS may be getting into the Bay and work with decision-makers about what actions we collectively have to take to protect our coastal waters.”

Learn more at our Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper webinar

Invitation to Coffee with the Casco BayKeeper PFAS discussion

Learn more about Friends of Casco Bay’s ongoing data collection of PFAS in Casco Bay this Thursday, March 21 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. at our Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper webinar. Grab a cup of coffee and hop online to hear Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley discuss the results of this collaboration with Bigelow Laboratory.

What: Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: PFAS
When: Wednesday, March 21, 8:00 to 8:45 a.m.
Where: Zoom, Register here to receive a link to attend

Film Fest for Casco Bay

Announcing this year’s date for Film Fest for Casco Bay: 
Saturday, November 2, 2024, 2-6 p.m. 

University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Auditorium, Portland

We hope to see you at our Film Fest for Casco Bay, an afternoon of movies curated by Maine Outdoor Film Festival. The event will feature an array of environmental and adventure films curated just for us. You won’t want to miss it!

We will also host a raffle for prizes such as local hand crafted goods, gift cards to local shops and eateries, art, Friends of Casco Bay hats and jackets, and even private boat cruises on Casco Bay!

What: Film Fest for Casco Bay

When: Saturday, November 2, 3-6:10 p.m. (doors open at 2 p.m.)

Where: University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center, 88 Bedford Street, Portland

Our Top 10 Moments of 2023

As this year comes to an end, let’s reflect and celebrate the many ways that we worked together to protect the health of Casco Bay in 2023. Here are our top ten stories of the year:

1) We won a four-year moratorium on new sources of pollution into the lower Presumpscot River. The moratorium prevents the permitting of new industrial or wastewater discharges into the river near where it empties into Casco Bay. As the Presumpscot drains two-thirds of the Casco Bay watershed, this was a big win for our waters. Portland Press Herald wrote an in-depth story on this effort. Our lead advocate, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca won the Chief Poulin Award for her work on the moratorium. Ivy is shown here receiving the award from Friends of the Presumpscot River board member, Will Plumley.

2) More than 100 of our volunteer Water Reporters deepened their knowledge about Casco Bay. Volunteer Water Reporters attended a wide array of meet-ups and trainings all around the Bay this year. Water Reporters spent time with experts and heard the most up-to-date information about living shorelines, marsh restoration, invasive species, and stormwater pollution.

3) The “Sensor Squad” is moving science forward for Casco Bay and all of Maine’s coastal waters. Good decisions are made using good data. Led, in part, by our Staff Scientist Mike Doan, the Sensor Squad is working to ensure we are using the most accurate climate change and acidification techniques and protocols we can. This work is a part of Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative, a coalition of scientists and marine organizations from the University of New Hampshire to the border of Maine and Canada working to improve climate change data collection. Friends of Casco Bay helps to lead the Collaborative.

4) Passamaquoddy Language Keeper Dwayne Tomah was the featured speaker at our Members Annual Meeting in August. He shared the Passamaquoddy word for ceremony, “olotahkewakon,” noting that our gathering was a ceremony for our mother earth. Dwayne’s refrain throughout the evening was “We are all in this together.” Watch the inspiring talk here.

5) We maintained the strength of the permit that regulates stormwater pollution from large urban communities. You may remember that we celebrated this stricter permit as our top story of 2022. Stormwater is one of the largest sources of pollution into Casco Bay. Since the permit that regulates urban stormwater went into effect in July 2022, we have been working to ensure that it is properly implemented. In November, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection agreed with us that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection must ensure that towns covered by the permit implement low-impact development ordinances that include nine strategies designed to reduce stormwater pollution from new construction and redevelopment.

6) The City of South Portland launched 100 Resilient Yards, providing a grassroots way to bring best practices in yard care directly to neighborhoods around the city. Residents and businesses who took part in the program were given technical and physical assistance to build healthy soils that protect Casco Bay. Experts and volunteers helped residents build rain gardens, grow pollinator gardens, and more. We hope other towns around the Bay look at this program as a model!

7) We organized 15 fun coastal cleanups, including one with the surf rock band Easy Honey and one with the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. These cleanups gave community members a hands-on way to make a direct difference in the health of our waters by preventing waste and litter from being washed into the Bay.

8) We hired Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley! Over the past 10 months, Sara has become an integral part of our team. She’s helped deepen the knowledge of our Water Reporters, organized storm drain stenciling and coastal cleanups, and worked to expand our outreach efforts.

Pile of expired flares9) We helped organize an expired flare collection event in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Casco Bay and the Maine State Fire Marshall. The event was a great success, collecting 1,945 expired marine flares. Marine flares are pyrotechnic devices that boaters can use as a distress signal in emergencies. They burn at high temperatures, posing a serious fire hazard for long-term storage. Flares also contain toxic chemicals that can contaminate water and soil. Due to these hazardous qualities, it is illegal to throw flares in the trash, and ill-advised to store them at home.

Scenic Category Winner 1st Place, Student Category Winner, Best of Show, by Ava McKinley

10) We got in touch with our artistic side! Our online event, Water as Inspiration, brought together three regional artists to draw the connections between creativity, the environment, and climate change. We had dozens of submissions to “Frame the Bay,” our first-ever photo contest at our Members Annual Meeting. And we shared the stage with filmmaker Maximillian Armstrong at our Film Fest for Casco Bay.

As YOU know, Casco Bay is an inspiration! Thank you for helping us protect this amazing place and for being a Friend of Casco Bay.

Water Reporters Deepen Their Knowledge of Casco Bay

What are some techniques for observing the natural world around me more mindfully? How can you tell if a saltwater marsh is healthy or if it is eroding at an unnatural pace? What are some commonly overlooked invasive species that are affecting Casco Bay? How is nitrogen pollution linked to the growth of large nuisance algal blooms?

This summer and fall, Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteer Water Reporters found out the answers to these questions and more as we hosted a wide array of meet-ups and trainings all around the Bay. More than 100 volunteers attended these special events. Water Reporters spent time with experts and heard the most up- to-date information about living shorelines, marsh restoration, invasive species, and stormwater pollution.

“I am very grateful to Friends of Casco Bay for the wonderful learning opportunities they provide to me as a Water Reporter,” says volunteer Catherine Tarpy. “The events are free and give us a top-quality education about the current status and future of Casco Bay. One more thing, they’re so much fun!”

Volunteer Water Reporters take photos and observations of pollution, climate change, and ecological problems that are impacting Casco Bay. Volunteers also share observations of good news, such as rare wildlife sightings. Our staff receives notices of the posts, including latitude and longitude. Friends of Casco Bay staff then follow up with every post, which sometimes involves visiting the site of the post to further investigate.

“Our volunteer Water Reporters are on the front lines of climate change,” shared Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley. “They are tracking changes they are seeing and helping us be the eyes of the Bay. We are working to give these volunteers the opportunity to learn more about the biggest threats to our coastal waters and to deepen their knowledge of the Bay.”

Sara organized six Water Reporter training events from June through September. She also happens to be our newest staff member.

“We are excited to have Sara aboard,” said Executive Director Will Everitt. “We created her position to double-down on the idea that it takes a community to take care of the health of Casco Bay. Sara has jumped into the work with both feet!”

Although cold weather is beginning, our Water Reporter events will continue as our volunteers post their observations year-round. Friends of Casco Bay will host online events this winter.

You can learn more about our Water Reporter program by visiting cascobay.org/water-reporter. And if you haven’t had the chance to meet Sara or volunteer yet, you can reach out to her by sending an email to sfreshley [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Thank you to Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust, L.L.Bean, Allagash Brewing Company, Ferris Olson Family Foundation for Ocean Stewardship, WEX, and our members for their support of our Water Reporter program.

Volunteer Water Reporters joined Friends of Casco Bay at six meetup and training events so far this year, including a season kickoff event, a salt marsh training, an invasive species training,a mindful observation event, and a stormwater training. Invasive training photo by Perry Flowers.

Taking Action on Stormwater

Stormwater made the Presumpscot River discolored in May 2023. Documented by Water Reporter Stephanie Noyes.

Stormwater delivers some of the largest loads of pollution into Casco Bay. As stormwater flows over our roads, driveways, parking lots, and buildings, it collects a toxic slurry. Instead of filtering into the soil, water sheets off these impervious surfaces, picking up pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roadways, pathogens from pet waste, and so much more. Stormwater carries this toxic mix into our rivers, streams, and ultimately into Casco Bay, causing a host of water quality problems. While stormwater pollution is very difficult to eliminate because it is so diffuse, one of the ways we are working to reduce this pollution is through improving how the state protects our waters from this threat.

Here is some good news as we work to reduce stormwater pollution: the Maine Department of Environmental Protection asked Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, our lead advocate, to serve on the Steering Committee revising Maine’s stormwater rules. These rules apply to large developments in all municipalities in Maine.

The Steering Committee contains twenty members tasked with identifying how the stormwater rules should be strengthened. Ivy’s work will be informed by her years of experience working to reduce stormwater pollution. The Steering Committee met for the first time in December 2023.

The stormwater rules as currently written are out-of-date. They apply only to large developments and miss a lot of the actual development and redevelopment in our watershed. The rules also do not require the use of low-impact development (LID) strategies, such as leaving buffers near streams. While they have some incentives for the use of LID techniques, those incentives rarely tempt developers. Also, as our climate changes, the rules must be revised to account for future increasing storm intensities and precipitation.

The next meeting of the Steering Committee will be in January 2024. To keep you up-to-date about this important process, Friends of Casco Bay will host an event in early 2024 about stormwater pollution, the revision process, how YOU can get involved, and, of course, why it matters for Casco Bay! More information will be sent via email. Sign up for our email list here.

Ever-Changing Casco Bay

Casco Bay is everchanging. The Bay changes with each tide, each day, and each season. And now, because of climate change, our coastal waters are transforming in different ways and faster than we thought possible.

At our EverChanging Casco Bay event on November 28, Staff Scientist Mike Doan dove into the data we use to track the health of the Bay. Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley shared observational data our volunteer Water Reporters posted over the course of the summer. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca discussed how these scientific and observational data are helping to move the needle for a cleaner, more protected Casco Bay.


If you missed the event or want to rewatch it, click here. If you don’t have time to watch the whole event, you can click here to hear Mike delve into the datahere for Sara talking about Water Reporters, and here to listen to Ivy describe the big picture.

More than 60 Friends attended the event along with members of the media. The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday TelegramMaine PublicBangor Daily News, and WGME covered the event and the issues we discussed.