Before we started monitoring the water quality of Casco Bay, no one knew how healthy or polluted the Bay actually was. Thanks to the data we have been collecting at dozens of shoreside and offshore sites, we can state that the water temperature of Casco Bay has risen by 2.5°F, on average, since 1993.
Our long-term data set is enhanced by our Continuous Monitoring Station that has been monitoring the health of the Bay hourly, 365 days a year, since 2016. Anchored below a pier in Yarmouth, it provides the frequent, high-volume stream of data necessary to accurately track changes that may impact the oysters, clams, lobsters, and eelgrass within the Bay.
“Climate change is happening so rapidly, we needed to add to the way we collect data,” observed Research Associate Mike Doan. Since July 20, 2016, our Continuous Monitoring Station has been gathering data around the clock, all year long. Each month, we post information on 10 measures that document water quality at our monitoring site in Yarmouth, near the coastal midpoint of Casco Bay.
Our Monitoring Station is fondly nicknamed the “Cage of Science” because its high-tech sensors are housed inside a converted lobster trap. These instruments measure temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH, carbon dioxide, and more.
These data help us gain new insights—and new questions–on the health of the Bay. Others are finding these data useful, too. Scientists use our data to inform their own research. Policy makers refer to our data to support legislative action on climate change. Classroom teachers have their students analyze our data to launch discussions on what humans can do to improve water quality. Recently, we discovered that young visitors to the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine measure the temperature and salinity of the Museum’s touch tank and compare their readings to our real-world data on Casco Bay.
We have posted our data online for all to see. Visit cascobay.org to see for yourself how Casco Bay is changing month by month.
The news media have recently reported on our plan to expand our array of Continuous Monitoring Stations to get a better understanding of the dynamics of Casco Bay:
What’s green, microscopic, and makes half of the oxygen we breathe? Phytoplankton, the tiny algae at the base of the food chain, that’s what! Measurements of chlorophyll — the green pigment that enables plants and algae to photosynthesize — provide an estimate of how much phytoplankton are in our coastal… Read more
We were delighted to have more than 80 Friends of the Bay join us for our 30th Anniversary Members Annual Meeting on June 16. As Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell said during the event, we only wish we could have held it in person. If you missed the event — or… Read more
What is this Cage of Science that Friends of Casco Bay keeps talking about? We invite you to join Staff Scientist Mike Doan out on Casco Bay for a short tour of our Continuous Monitoring Station. In this 2 ½ minute video, Mike shows off the high-tech components of the… Read more
When we look at our water quality data, we can see that some characteristics of the Bay influence other characteristics. In this example, large phytoplankton blooms have a big impact on the chemistry of Casco Bay. Ready for some Marine Science 101? In the graph below, we compare two types… Read more
It is lonely out on the pier where Staff Scientist Mike Doan is collecting data on the health of Casco Bay — and he is playing it safe, taking his own selfie as seen here. We are continuing to monitor the health of Casco Bay. Our Continuous Monitoring Station is still… Read more
Summer is going swimmingly here at Friends of Casco Bay, and we have a lot of good news to share:
Our priority legislative bill to create a state-level Climate Change and Ocean Acidification Council was incorporated nearly word-for-word into the Governor’s comprehensive Climate Change Council bill. An Act to Promote Clean Energy Jobs and to Establish the Maine Climate Council passed with strong bipartisan support. In recognition of her yeoman’s work on this issue, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca was invited to attend the bill signing by Governor Janet Mills on June 26th.
Our water quality sampling season is well underway, as we continue to add to our long-term dataset at 22 shoreside and deepwater sites around the Bay. You may see Research Associate Mike Doan and Casco Baykeeper Ivy making the rounds by land and by sea every few weeks from April through October.
July 20 marks the third anniversary of the launch of our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth. Our Monitoring Station is fondly nicknamed the “Cage of Science” because its high-tech sensors are housed inside a transformed lobster trap. The instruments measure temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH, and carbon dioxide.
Together, they collect data once an hour, every hour, year round. At this time of year, Mike has to scrape off a new array of marine hitchhikers whenever he hauls up the Cage of Science to download data.
‘Tis the season to think about what not to put on your lawn! With five workshops behind her, Associate Director Mary Cerullo has scheduled another five BayScaping presentations for August and beyond. She is happy to talk with neighborhood groups about green yards and a blue Bay.
There has been such a demand by community groups to volunteer for coastal cleanups and storm drain stenciling projects that Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman and summer intern Alexis Burns have been very busy. They already have hosted seven events with 106 participants who collected an estimated 238 lbs. of trash and stenciled 238 storm drains!
Our new pumpout boat, Headmaster, was launched on June 10th to pump raw sewage from the marine toilets of recreational boats. Captain Jim Splude, our congenial pumpout boat coordinator, can go about his business more efficiently now with a new boat that has more than twice the holding capacity of the old one.
Our Water Reporter volunteer project is expanding as we hoped and planned. Nearly 40 enthusiastic volunteers attended our Water Reporter training on June 24. Volunteers continue to sign up to keep watch over specific areas of the Bay.
July 10 was the first anniversary of Friends of Casco Bay’s launch of the Water Reporter app. To date, 162 volunteers in this observing network have made more than 500 posts. We call that a great start!
Thank you to everyone who made our Nabbing Nitrogen day a success!
We had 97 dedicated volunteers come out and 90 Nitrogen samples were collected!
To all of our Nabbing Nitrogen volunteers—THANK YOU for braving the chilly rain to sample with us. We were amazed by your enthusiasm and dedication.
We want to also thank the 55 boaters, kayakers, canoers, and paddleboarders who planned on Nabbing Nitrogen with us—we are sorry that the weather did not cooperate with us. The fog, mist, winds, and early morning rain made it unsafe to ask dozens of boaters and kayakers to cross the busy harbor. It was better to be safe than sorry.
You can see photos from the event on our Facebook Page. Thank you to our photographers Dave Dostie and Sonny McAlpin for capturing the day.
For those who signed up to be Nabbers: Since this is our first time completing this event, we would appreciate any feedback you have on the effort. If you signed up for the event, whether or not you participated, you can fill out our feedback form below or click here to open it in a new window. You can also email Sarah at slyman [at] cascobay [dot] org with any feedback you have.
Thank you to the businesses and organizations that allowed us to use their private access points on the water or sampled themselves: Centerboard Yacht Club, Chandler’s Wharf, DiMillo’s Restaurant and Marina, Gowen’s Marine, Maine State Pier, Portland Company, Portland Harbor Master, Portland Water District, Portland Yacht Services, South Port Marina, Sprague Energy, Sunset Marina, the U.S. Coast Guard, Union Wharf, and Waynflete.
Thank you to Mill Creek Hannaford and Gulf of Maine Research Institute for allowing us to use their parking lots as coordination sites. Thank you to Andy’s Old Port Pub for hosting our debriefing.
Our intern, Joshua Clukey, was essential in the success of this event. Thank you, Josh, for your tireless efforts.
Our Nabbing Nitrogen effort is a partnership between Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the City of South Portland.
This project has been funded in part by Davis Conservation Foundation, Birch Cove Fund at Maine Community Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Seth Sprague Educational and Charitable Foundation, RBC Blue Water Project, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the Bowdoin College Common Good Grant, and other generous supporters.
Sign up has been closed. We invite you to fill out our volunteer application to learn about our other volunteer opportunities and get put on our email list for the specific volunteer opportunities you are interested in.
Why are we picking on Nitrogen?
Too much nitrogen can turn Casco Bay from a healthy blue to a slimy green. All living things need nitrogen to grow, but an overdose can trigger excessive growth of nuisance algae, reduce water clarity, and lower oxygen levels. This process also releases carbon dioxide, creating acidic conditions that can make it harder for clams and mussels to build and maintain their shells.
By nabbing nitrogen with us, you will help us map nitrogen levels in the Fore River and Portland Harbor—one of the most heavily populated regions in the state. This may allow us to identify problem areas and explore sources of pollution. This effort will provide the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with data needed to ground truth its nitrogen model, used to predict nitrogen sources and distribution in this region. Your effort will help our advocacy efforts to establish a limit on how much nitrogen may be discharged into coastal waters.
Where does nitrogen pollution come from?
Excess nitrogen comes into Casco Bay from three different sources, almost in equal proportion—from sewage, from stormwater runoff, and from air pollution (see pie chart). Water quality sampling by Friends of Casco Bay has shown that nitrogen pollution is most severe in areas that are close to shore, near river mouths, at sewer overflow pipes, and other locations where stormwater runoff reaches the Bay. That is why we have created this event to “Nab Nitrogen.”
Nitrogen is contained in human, pet, and animals wastes, in decaying plants and animals, and is released during the combustion of fossil fuels. Sewage discharges from wastewater treatment plants, combined sewer overflows, and leaky septic systems add nitrogen from human waste. Stormwater runoff from land flushes oil and dirt from paved surfaces, pet wastes, and fertilizers from lawns, farms, parks, golf courses, into the ocean. Nitrogen also descends from tailpipes and smokestacks, chimneys, and power plants.
Why at this date and time?
Sampling on an outgoing tide is the best time to measure the influence of land-based sources of nitrogen pollution to Casco Bay. We hope 130 community members, especially sea kayakers and boaters, will volunteer and sample simultaneously at 10:10 a.m., just before low tide. These samples will help us create a snapshot of nitrogen concentrations in the Fore River and Portland Harbor, allowing us to better understand land-based sources of nitrogen pollution in this region of Casco Bay.
How many sites can I sample?
I can’t sample at 10:10 a.m. on July 10. How can I participate?
Nitrogen Nabbing can be done only at the specified time so that samples are collected simultaneously, to help us create the snapshot. If you want to help out with preparation in the weeks prior to the sampling event, there are other ways for you to be involved. Emailslyman [at] cascobay [dot] org to let us know you are interested.
Why are you sampling only in the Fore River and Portland Harbor?
The Maine DEP is refining a model on nitrogen inputs into our coastal waters and needs more data in the Fore River and Portland Harbor. By nabbing nitrogen, you are helping ground truth this model while helping cities, like Portland and South Portland, identify sources of nitrogen moving into Casco Bay.
While this initial effort on July 10 will take place only in Portland and South Portland, we hope to nab nitrogen in the future, in other communities around Casco Bay.
What ifweather is an issue?
In case of dangerous weather, you will be asked to monitor our website www.cascobay.org for any notifications regarding weather conditions. Please provide us with a cell phone number that we can text to reach you. Weather contingencies include the following:
• If there is a small craft advisory, we will nab only by land and not by sea.
• If heavy weather is predicted or approaching (hurricane, thunderstorms), we will reschedule the effort to July 24 from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (on that day sampling will take place at 8:24 a.m. due to the difference in tides).
What if I have some other issue that arises on July 10?
Please call our office at (207) 799-8574 in the event that you need any help with any contingencies that may arise.
When will we see the results, the snapshot of nitrogen levels in Portland Harbor on July 10?
The samples will be frozen and sent to a laboratory for analysis. After we receive the results, we will construct a map, plotting the various levels of nitrogen at sites around the harbor. We expect to be able to share the results this fall.
What can I do to prevent nitrogen pollution?
Don’t use fertilizers on your lawn.
Plant or retain bushes and trees to keep water from running off your property and into waterways. Go to cascobay.org/bayscaping for more tips on how to grow a green yard to keep Casco Bay blue.
Conserve energy, both in terms of electrical usage and gasoline consumption decreases the nitrogen oxides that lead to acid rain formation.
Buy local—locally produced goods have not been transported significant distances, reducing gas consumption and refrigeration during transportation, which also decreases nitrogen emissions.
Eat organic foods. Because they are not treated with commercial fertilizers, further decreasing nitrogen pollution.
Maintain your septic system by having an annual inspection of the tank and having regular pump outs by a licensed professional.
Empty your boat’s holding tank at a pumpout facility at your marina or through Friends of Casco Bay’s mobile pumpout service.
Burn less oil, wood, and coal to reduce pollution from smokestacks.
Keep your car tuned up to reduce pollution from tailpipes.
This effort is a partnership between Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the City of South Portland.
This project has been funded in part by Davis Conservation Foundation, Birch Cove Fund at Maine Community Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Seth Sprague Educational and Charitable Foundation, RBC Blue Water Project, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the Bowdoin College Common Good Grant, and other generous supporters. You can support this effort by making a donation here.