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Category: Data on Casco Bay

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.

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.

Film Fest for Casco Bay

November 4, 2023, 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 a twelve environmental and adventure films curated just for us. You won’t want to miss it!


We will be screening a variety of great environmental films that inspire wonder, make us laugh, and instill hope for the future. All films are suitable for ages ten and above. 

New this year: 

  • filmmaker Maximilian Armstrong join us as our special guest at the event. Max created Seeds of Change, a film about an organic farmer in Maine who sets out to transform the prison food system. Max will share more about the film at Film Fest for Casco Bay. 
  • Oysters! Our friends at Freeport Oyster Bar will be shucking Casco Bay oysters
  • Casco Bay Seaweed Dip from Alga Maine The Seaweed Dip is a delicious, fresh seaweed product created especially for this event by Tollef Olson, a long-time Friends of Casco Bay supporter.

You’ll also get to enjoy Oakhurst drinks, Cabot cheese, crackers, Hansel’s Orchard Apples, and the popcorn we have always offered for free as part of the event.

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
Advance ticket sales for the in-person event will close on Friday 11/3 at 10 a.m. We will have tickets available for sale at the door the day of the event for $35. 

When: Saturday, November 4, 3-6:10 p.m. (doors open at 2 p.m.)

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

This year’s event will feature these twelve films:

THE FEEDING FRENZY – 7 minutes – by Roger Scott McCord – from Maine – Short synopsis: A brood of five Phoebe hatchlings is obsessed from nest to first flight.

BOTTOM TURN – 8 minutes – by Luis Bauer – from Germany – Short synopsis: Bottom Turn is a short surf film shot on location in Bali and Lombok, Indonesia between August and September 2022. Jake illiterates how his life has looked with, and without, a strong relationship with his passion.

ELEVATED – 15 minutes – by Palmer Morse – from California – Short synopsis: Effective communication is a challenge every climber faces. It’s a sport that requires intense focus, dedication, and overcoming fear. For Deaf climber Sonya Wilson, communication and community is of vital importance. Elevated is a non-verbal film sharing Sonya’s experience as a Deaf woman and outdoor advocate working to bridge the gap between the Deaf community and the outdoor industry, one crag at a time.

THE BEAR COAST – 17 minutes – by Andrew Ackerman – from CO – Short synopsis: Despite the number of protected wildlife areas along Alaska’s Bear Coast, the fractured, disconnected landscape of the national and state park systems exposes brown bears to many threats. This short, informative documentary centers multifocal storytelling with a local, diverse cast of characters to provide a nuanced account of contentious environmental issues that have real, lived impacts for Alaska Peninsula residents and bear populations alike.

SEEDS OF CHANGE – 27 minutes – by Maximilian Armstrong – from Maine – Short synopsis: An organic Farmer in Maine sets out to transform the prison food system. Seeds of Change captures the intersecting stories of life-long farmer, Mark McBrine, and several incarcerated men as they harvest their own meals from a five-acre prison garden unlike any other.

GUIDED BY THE MOON – 3 minutes – by Michael Mitchell – from Massachusetts – Short synopsis: Guided By The Moon is a non-narrative film showcasing the Algonquin-speaking peoples’ various names for full moons through creative transitions, honoring the memory of indigenous communities’ traditions.

FROZEN HARVEST – 3 minutes – by Mark Fleming – from Maine – Short synopsis: For centuries, the people of Maine have upheld the tradition of ice harvesting. Our team had the opportunity to join volunteers at the Thompson Ice House and witness firsthand this once-thriving industry’s remarkable but vulnerable legacy. One of the few remaining ice harvests in the world, the ice house in South Bristol offers a poignant reminder of the profound impact of global warming.

WOOD HOOD – 16 minutes – by Alexander Cullen – from New York – Short synopsis: DeVaughn is a 15-year-old kid from New York City who loves skateboarding and craves a “quiet place” to escape the chaos of his home, the city, and kids that steal from him. The film follows DeVaughn on a weekend-long group camping trip with Camping to Connect, a BIPOC-led mentorship program that teaches leadership, brotherhood, and inclusion in the outdoors, a space that is unfamiliar and historically inaccessible to these kids.

THE RHYTHM OF ONE – 18 minutes – by Laurel Myers – from Colorado – Short synopsis: The world of mountain unicycling is not so different from those of skiing, climbing, or other adventure sports, yet you’ve probably never heard of it. ‘The Rhythm of One’ is a portrait of Canadian rider Ryan Kremsater and the evolution of his riding as he strives to push the envelope of this niche sport.

WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR GOAT – 6 minutes – by Jack Lewis Elder – from Colorado – Short synopsis: Nico is a woman in her late 20s who lives in her sprinter van with 2 goats, 3 chickens and a dog. In this quirky 6 minute film you’ll spend a day with Nico goat-packing a raft up to a high mountain lake. We take a dive into her lifestyle, the goats’ personalities, and Nico’s deeper mission to use her unique lifestyle for sustainability education.

FASCINATING MAINE FUNGI – 13 minutes – by Breanna Penney – from Maine – Short synopsis: North Spore founder Eliah Thanhauser teams up with TikTok influencer, mushroom ASMR enthusiast, and PhD Biochemist and Molecular Biologist Dr. Gordon Walker (aka Fascinated by Fungi) for a visually stunning mushroom foray off the coast of Maine.

CHICAS AL AGUA – 18 minutes – by Liz McGregor – from Maine – Short synopsis: You can count the number of female paddlers in Futaleuf, Chile on one hand… and they want to change that. After many riverside matés and floating conversations, the idea to create a kayak course for local teenage girls was hatched. Thanks to a committed group of women from around the globe, what started as a dream is now an inspirational contribution to the local community.

Coast Week Clean Up | September 9, 2023

You are invited to join us on Saturday, September 9th, at 10 a.m for a Coastal Clean up in Harpswell. 

Friends of Casco Bay has joined up with Harpswell Heritage Land Trust for this special cleanup. By taking part you’ll join hundreds of volunteers around the state as part of the 35th Maine Coastal Cleanup, hosted by Maine Coastal Program in the month of September. 

What: Harpswell Coastal Cleanup

Where: Meet at Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, 153 Harpswell Neck Rd, Harpswell

When: Saturday, September 9, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

RSVP: Sign up by filling out the form below

What to expect:

We will meet at Harpswell Heritage Land Trust where Friends of Casco Bay and Harpswell Heritage Land Trust staff will give an introduction and an orientation. Then you will be assigned a location in Harpswell to clean up! Most sites will be Harpswell Heritage Land Trust land. You will be provided with all of the supplies you need as well as a map. After a couple of hours, we will meet back at Harpswell Heritage Trust where you can leave your trash. 

This is an excellent way to meet other community members and explore the beautiful peninsulas of Harpswell.

Bring a friend! All are welcome.

Have questions? Email Sara at sfreshley [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Harpswell Coastal Cleanup Volunteer Release and Waiver of Liability Form

  • Every participant is asked to fill out this form before participating in a cleanup or stenciling event with us. This should be done at least 24 hours before the event begins. We look forward to having your help as we improve and protect Casco Bay.
    We would like to contact you from time to time to tell you about important updates about the health of Casco Bay, special events, and how you can support our mission. Please opt in to receiving these updates by sharing your email address below. You can opt out at any time by clicking the unsubscribe links at the bottom of each email.
  • Volunteer Release and Waiver of Liability Form This Release and Waiver of Liability (the “release”) executed on the date this form is completed by the volunteer ("Volunteer") who completes this form releases Friends of Casco Bay, a nonprofit corporation existing under the laws of the State of Maine, and each of their directors, officers, employees, and agents. The Volunteer desires to provide volunteer services for Friends of Casco Bay and engage in activities relating to serving as a volunteer to protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Volunteer understands that the scope of Volunteer’s relationship with Friends of Casco Bay is limited to a volunteer position and that no compensation is expected in return for services provided by Volunteer; that Friends of Casco Bay will not provide any benefits traditionally associated with employment to Volunteer; and that Volunteer is responsible for his/her own insurance coverage in the event of personal injury or illness as a result of Volunteer’s service to Friends of Casco Bay.
    1. Waiver and Release: I, the Volunteer, release and forever discharge and hold harmless Friends of Casco Bay and their successors and assigns from any and all liability, claims, and demands of whatever kind of nature, either in law or in equity, which arise or may hereafter arise from the services I provide to Friends of Casco Bay. I understand and acknowledge that this Release discharges Friends of Casco Bay from any liability or claim that I may have against Friends of Casco Bay with respect to bodily injury, personal injury, illness, death, or property damage that may result from the services I provide to Friends of Casco Bay and occurring while I am providing volunteer services.
    2. Insurance: Further I understand that Friends of Casco Bay do not assume any responsibility for or obligation to provide me with financial or other assistance, including but not limited to medical, health or disability benefits or insurance of any nature in the event of my injury, illness, death or damage to my property. I expressly waive any such claim for compensation or liability on the part of Friends of Casco Bay beyond what may be offered freely by Friends of Casco Bay in the event of such injury or medical expenses incurred by me.
    3. Medical Treatment: I hereby Release and forever discharge Friends of Casco Bay from any claim whatsoever which arises or may hereafter arise on account of any first-aid treatment or other medical services rendered in connection with an emergency during my tenure as a volunteer with Friends of Casco Bay.
    4. Assumption of Risk: I understand that the services I provide to Friends of Casco Bay may include inherently dangerous activities that may be hazardous to me including, but not limited to water sampling and/or attending events that are near or on the ocean, slippery docks, rocks, piers, wharves, and boats. As a volunteer, I hereby expressly assume the risk of injury or harm from these activities and release Friends of Casco Bay from all liability for injury, illness, death, or property damage resulting from the services I provide as a volunteer and occurring while I am providing volunteer services.
    5. Photographic Release: I grant and convey to Friends of Casco Bay all rights, title, and interests in any and all photographs, images, video, or audio recordings of me or my likeness or voice made by Friends of Casco Bay in connection with my providing volunteer services to Friends of Casco Bay.
    6. Email Signup: We would like to contact you from time to time to tell you about important updates about the health of Casco Bay, special events, and how you can support our mission. Please opt in to receiving these updates by sharing your email address below. You can opt out at any time by clicking the unsubscribe links at the bottom of each email.
    7. Other: As a volunteer, I expressly agree that this Release is intended to be as broad and inclusive as permitted by the laws of the State of Maine and that this Release shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of the State of Maine. I agree that in the event that any clause or provision of this Release is deemed invalid, the enforceability of the remaining provisions of this Release shall not be affected.
    By completing this form and checking the box below, I express my understanding and intent to enter into this Release and Waiver of Liability willingly and voluntarily.

31 Years of Seasonal Sampling

Today, on World Ocean Day, we are celebrating our 31st year of collecting seasonal water quality data on the health of Casco Bay!

It also happens to be Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Ivy!

Every year, from May to October, Ivy and Staff Scientist Mike Doan take to our Baykeeper boat and truck to assess water quality at more than 20 locations in Casco Bay. This seasonal sampling includes measuring temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, total nitrogen, water clarity, salinity, and chlorophyll fluorescence (an estimate of phytoplankton abundance). 

This year, for the first time, seasonal sampling will include testing for PFAS contamination in Casco Bay in collaboration with marine chemist Christoph Aeppli of Bigelow Laboratories for Ocean Sciences. PFAS are a class of widely-used, long-lasting chemicals and are an emerging pollutant of concern in Maine and around the world.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan collects water quality data from our Casco Baykeeper boat, R/V Joseph E. Payne. Mike uses a data sonde – a scientific device that measures water quality characteristics – to measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and other parameters.

“There is an important gap in PFAS testing in Maine,” says Ivy. “Current monitoring for contamination in sources like drinking water, fish tissues, and wastewater appropriately focus on public health. However, we don’t know how PFAS pollution is affecting water quality and the environment more broadly, especially in tidal waters like Casco Bay.” 

Our collaboration with Bigelow this summer will help develop a baseline understanding of PFAS levels in Casco Bay, and lay the groundwork for testing in the marine environment moving forward. 

At Friends of Casco Bay, we use all of our seasonal sampling data to help assess the health of the Bay. Mike compares this seasonal work to a regular health check-up. “Like a doctor checking your blood pressure, if we find an anomaly or problem, we can do more thorough investigations,” says Mike. 

Seasonal sampling also enables us to assess water quality over a large area by visiting more than 20 different sites in the Bay. That’s a key difference from our Continuous Monitoring Stations, which collect data at a much higher frequency from three locations in Casco Bay.

Friends of Casco Bay conducts seasonal water quality monitoring at more than 20 locations in Casco Bay, marked by the blue dots. We also gather year-round data at their three Continuous Monitoring Stations, marked by the yellow stars.

The seasonal data we collect this year will add to our historic 30-year dataset, which has become one of the most long-term marine water quality datasets in the United States. Our data show that Casco Bay is warming at the same alarming rate observed in the greater Gulf of Maine. They have helped to designate Casco Bay as a federal No Discharge Area and strengthen legal protections for large areas of the Bay.

We share our data with other scientists as well as with state and federal agencies that use them to meet regulatory mandates. 

“For over three decades, Friends of Casco Bay’s monitoring efforts have provided scientists and regulators a crucial part of the data used to understand the condition of Casco Bay,” says Curtis Bohlen, Director of the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, one of 28 federal National Estuary Programs. “The next thirty years will see unprecedented change in the Bay. Friends’ monitoring will undoubtedly be at the center of our efforts to witness and understand those changes.”

The Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative Provides a Model to Move Maine Forward

Studying changing coastal ecosystems comes with unique challenges – Friends of Casco Bay and our partners are taking them on.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan designed Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Stations, which serve as a model for measuring the influence of climate change on Maine’s coastal waters. Mike is working with other scientists to develop shared methods to collect and analyze marine climate change data, a key goal of Maine’s Climate Action Plan.

Friends of Casco Bay is facilitating the newly formed 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. The Collaborative’s work acts as a model for establishing a coastwide climate change monitoring network, a key goal of Maine Won’t Wait, Maine’s Climate Action Plan.

“[The state of Maine is] participating in an ocean climate collaborative with academic and non-profit partners to coordinate and improve Maine-focused coastal and ocean acidification monitoring relevant to meeting the goals of Maine Won’t Wait,” reads the state’s two-year progress report on the Climate Action Plan. This is the Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative, which Friends of Casco Bay helps to lead!

In order to respond to the impacts of climate change, policymakers, resource harvesters, and other marine-dependent persons and industries must have reliable data. With these data in hand, they can make informed decisions to protect coastal resources, foster resilient habitat, and adapt fisheries management. 

This is easier said than done. Collecting data in coastal ecosystems comes with highly technical and unique challenges. In nearshore environments such as Casco Bay, the confluence of freshwater and saltwater, and the influences of human populations make studying water chemistry complex and difficult. 

“Climate change is challenging to measure, especially along the coast,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “The Collaborative brings together some of the best scientific minds in Maine who are working to better understand how nearshore conditions are changing in response to excess carbon in the water. Together we can best compare equipment, evaluate data, and understand the changes we are seeing.” 

One of the Collaborative’s current tasks is to compare and refine technology, quality assurance standards, and monitoring methods to better measure acidification in coastal waters. Staff Scientist Mike Doan is working closely on this effort with two other members of the Collaborative: Wells National Estuarine Reserve, and University of New Hampshire’s Ocean Process Analysis Laboratory. 

Friends of Casco Bay collects pH data (a measure of acidity) at our three Continuous Monitoring Stations. Click on the graph to view these and our other continuous monitoring data yourself!

The ability to effectively measure acidification is vital because oceans around the world are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Ocean acidification lowers the amount of minerals available for shell-building organisms like clams and oysters. It can also cause some harmful species of algae to bloom faster and produce more toxins. Our understanding of these impacts and others are constantly evolving because ocean acidification is a relatively new area of scientific research. 

Measuring acidification along the coast is uniquely challenging because most scientific monitoring equipment is designed specifically for freshwater or offshore ocean environments.

“Effective water science in the nearshore calls for creative solutions,” says Mike. “Fortunately, everyone in this group has experience doing just that, innovating to move coastal and climate science forward.”

This technology and monitoring methods work is supported by a $200,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation. What Mike and the team learn will be shared with the rest of the Collaborative, enabling comparable marine climate data to be gathered throughout the Gulf of Maine.

Maine and ocean acidification: how did we get here?

Maine was the second state in the nation to recognize that ocean acidification poses a serious and little-understood threat to shellfisheries and coastal ecosystems. Since 2014, the state and marine organizations have convened multiple initiatives to better understand and address ocean acidification. This work ultimately resulted in a goal outlined in Maine’s Climate Action Plan to create a coastwide network of scientists to collect climate and ocean acidification data in the Gulf of Maine. These data would be accessible to inform environmental policy and fisheries management. 

The Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative provides a model for how this network can work. The Collaborative includes Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Bowdoin College, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Downeast Institute, Friends of Casco Bay, Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, Island Institute, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Marine Resources, the University of New Hampshire, and Wells Reserve. The Maine Climate Council Coordinator also participates.

Nab Data Suggest Land-Based Sources Contribute to Nitrogen Pollution

166 volunteers collected water samples from Portland Harbor to help measure and address nitrogen pollution. Here is what we found.

It was a sweltering summer morning on August 7, 2022 when 166 volunteers descended on Portland Harbor to collect water samples for nitrogen analysis.

After sending the 178 samples collected that day to the University of Maine Darling Marine Center Laboratory for analysis, the results are in.

Data from the Nab show nitrogen levels are generally highest near the shores of Portland Harbor, suggesting land-based sources contribute to nitrogen pollution. Each dot on the map represents one water sample. The dots are color coded based on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s nitrogen advisory thresholds. Green dots show healthy levels of nitrogen. Yellow dots show nitrogen levels that can harm eelgrass habitat. Red dots show nitrogen levels that can lead to low amounts of oxygen in Casco Bay, which can lower water quality and harm marine life.

The Nab data show nitrogen concentrations in Portland Harbor are generally highest near the shore. Lower concentrations of nitrogen are often observed in samples collected by boat from the mouth of the harbor and the middle of the harbor channel. These data suggest that land-based sources of excess nitrogen – a stormwater outfall, for example – enter the harbor at the shoreline and diffuse as water circulates with the tides.

“Seeing the data all together is remarkable,” says Staff Scientist Mike Doan. “Having so many samples collected at once gives us a robust image of nitrogen conditions in the harbor. Our incredible volunteers made this happen.” Mike adds that it is important to keep in mind that these data represent a snapshot of nitrogen conditions in the Bay’s dynamic ecosystem.

Mike compared data collected this summer to the data collected at our first Nab in 2016. The 2016 data also show nitrogen concentrations are highest near the shore. However, a key difference between the two Nabs was the weather.

The 2016 Nab coincided with a large storm. In fact, it was still raining when water samples were collected. Conversely, the 2022 Nab happened on a hot day during a summer drought.

Alicia Richards, Friends of Casco Bay’s 2022 Summer Intern, scoops water into a sample jar at Nabbing Nitrogen in August. 166 volunteers collected water samples that day from the shores of Portland, South Portland, surrounding islands, and by boat in Portland Harbor. The Nab focused on the harbor because it is showing signs of stress from nitrogen pollution.

“If land-based sources of nitrogen are affecting the harbor, we would expect nitrogen levels near the shore to be higher after a rainstorm than during a drought, and that is generally what we saw,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “The next step is to use these data to see if there are specific sources of nitrogen around the harbor that can be addressed and to help set limits in Clean Water Act permits that decrease nitrogen discharges to healthy amounts.”

Excess nitrogen can come from many sources. Sometimes the source is easy to identify because it comes from a specific spot, like a wastewater treatment plant, stormwater outfall, or combined sewer overflow discharge. Other sources can be more difficult to identify because they are picked up by stormwater that sheets off the land when it rains. These sources can include fertilizers, car exhaust, pet waste, and more.

Data from the Nab are being used to help the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) develop nitrogen criteria for Casco Bay. These criteria will describe the levels of nitrogen that water bodies can safely absorb. They will also influence nitrogen discharge limits in Clean Water Act permits. Angela Brewer, who leads the marine unit of the Bureau of Water Quality at DEP, is excited to have these data.

“The Nab data provide a unique perspective that is essential to understanding the nitrogen dynamics in Portland area surface waters,” says Angela. “This perspective is only possible with Friends of Casco Bay’s extensive and dedicated volunteer network.”

Thank you to the volunteers who collected water samples with us at Nabbing Nitrogen, and to Allagash Brewing Company and our members for funding for this community science event. You made this work possible.

Why Does Nitrogen Matter?

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

Nitrogen is naturally found in marine waters. A healthy amount of nitrogen fertilizes algal blooms that form the base of the food chain in Casco Bay. But excess nitrogen from human sources such as wastewater, fertilizers, stormwater, and air pollution can cause excessive algal growth that harms the health of the marine environment. Some of the impacts of nitrogen pollution include degrading eelgrass beds (which are critical fish nursery habitat), exacerbating coastal acidification, lowering oxygen levels, and shutting down shellfisheries.

Mike’s Field Notes: Warm Winter Waters in Casco Bay

In this 4 minute video, Staff Scientist Mike Doan breaks down the data from our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth that show this past winter was unusually warm for Casco Bay. In addition to watching Mike’s video, you can read about these data and the many impacts of warming waters (such as more green crabs and less eelgrass), here.

P.S. You can try listening to the Bay yourself by checking out data from our Continuous Monitoring Stations.

“Staggering” loss of eelgrass habitat in Casco Bay

More than half of the critical and federally protected seagrass meadows in Casco Bay disappeared between 2018-2022.

Eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay have declined in size by 54 percent over the past four years, a loss described as “staggering” in a new report from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This decline of the federally protected marine habitat places eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay at their smallest size since monitoring efforts began in 1993. Warmer water temperatures in Casco Bay are thought to be a primary driver.

“We’ve worried over the last few summers about what impact really warm water temperatures might have on this fragile, beautiful, and important plant,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “Eelgrass forms one of the most productive habitats in the marine environment, stores carbon, and buffers against erosion from intense storms. This is a devastating loss and we are talking with other experts to determine what we might do to save eelgrass.”

Eelgrass coverage in Casco Bay declined by 54.5 percent between 2018-2022, in addition to overall declines in the density of remaining eelgrass meadows, according to the DEP report. Much of the hardest hit eelgrass habitat in Casco Bay is in Yarmouth, Freeport, Brunswick, and Harpswell, the same areas that saw significant eelgrass loss in 2011-2012.

Water Reporter Heather Osterfeld captured this photo of dislodged eelgrass floating near the shore in Maquoit Bay in Brunswick, in September 2021. The massive loss of eelgrass reported by DEP between 2018-2022 aligns with observational data collected by volunteer Water Reporters, where many documented large quantities of torn and uprooted eelgrass washing ashore in eastern Casco Bay in August and September of 2021.

Eelgrass is a ribbon-like seagrass that grows in submerged waters in Casco Bay and temperate marine zones around the world. Eelgrass meadows create a habitat that is one of the most valuable and productive in the marine environment.

Eelgrass meadows form the base of a marine food web, supporting organisms like invertebrates, fish, and waterfowl (including economically important fish and shellfish). Eelgrass meadows help maintain water quality by absorbing nutrients and stabilizing sediments, and reduce erosion by absorbing the force of wave energy. Eelgrass meadows are also exceptionally good at absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.

Eelgrass grows in submerged waters in Casco Bay. Photo credit: Steve Karpiak

Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine are some of the fastest-warming water bodies on the planet. Warmer water temperatures and the cascade of changes they can cause are thought to be major drivers of eelgrass loss. Warmer waters are correlated with growth in green crab populations, which are known to clip and uproot eelgrass as they search for food. Warmer water temperatures can also encourage algal blooms, which prevent light from reaching the seafloor.

The DEP report suggests light availability was a major factor contributing to the observed eelgrass loss in 2022.

Local factors such as nitrogen pollution from stormwater runoff and wastewater treatment effluents can also cause eelgrass loss. Friends of Casco Bay continues to advocate for policies and practices that reduce nitrogen pollution, and is working with DEP to develop nitrogen criteria for Maine waters.

In addition to reading the DEP report yourself, the Portland Press Herald recently published a story about it and you can read their coverage here.