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Keeping up with the Casco Baykeeper

For Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, the summer has been full of moments of concern and moments of magic.


How was your summer?

Summer means being on the Bay! Staff Scientist Mike Doan and I continued to collect our seasonal data on the health of Casco Bay by land and sea. As we collected water quality data, we had the opportunity to speak with people who rely on the Bay for their livelihoods and deepened our conversations about what we were seeing and how to use our data to shape our advocacy work.

How did the pandemic affect your Baykeeping work this summer?

We kept up with water quality monitoring by limiting crew on our Baykeeper boat, R/V Joseph E. Payne, to just two of us at any one time. We continued to collect hourly data from our Continuous Monitoring Station. We kept up with all water quality monitoring, including responding to the unexpected.

What changed and what we really missed was inviting others out on the boat with us. We love using the boat as our summer office, a way to gather people who can work together to find solutions to problems that impair the health of the Bay. It makes a big difference to view issues from the water and have people aboard with expertise and authority to address problems. We couldn’t do that this year.

What was the most concerning issue you saw this summer?

What stands out was a day in mid-July when we saw a large area of brownish water extending from the mouth of the Royal River. Mike and I thought it might be a phytoplankton bloom. But when we put our sonde in the water, it measured low salinity levels that were startling, extending out almost to Moshier Island. We had captured a stormwater plume from a recent major rainstorm.

What also stands out was how uniformly high water temperatures remained this summer. Broad Cove saw temperatures near 20°C [70°F] and the upper New Meadows River had temperatures between 25-26.5°C [nearly 80°F].

What we saw this summer reaffirmed for me the urgency of our collective work to document change, reduce the causes of climate change, and prepare for its consequences at community, regional, state and national levels.

How about some of your favorite moments of the summer?

There are always moments of astounding beauty on the Bay. Every day on Casco Bay is magical. Watching terns feeding, bald eagles soaring above the boat, leaping sturgeons in a school of bait fish, or the sunlight reflecting like a mirror on the water are moments of magic that underlie why we work to protect this amazing place.

I really enjoyed becoming more deeply connected to our volunteer Water Reporters. Their posts track important issues and give us a great view of what is happening around the Bay. Working with Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman, I spent some socially-distanced time with Water Reporters, following up with them as they tracked algae blooms, marsh conditions, reported pollution, and posted about other changes they were seeing in the Bay. It’s awesome knowing that there is a whole team of people in the community helping with our Baykeeping work.

Casco Bay is heating up

Seem hotter than usual? Yes, indeed.

Our Continuous Monitoring Station has been collecting hourly data on the health of the Bay for more than four years.

Data from the station show that this summer has been the hottest one we have recorded since our “Cage of Science” has been in the water.

This graph compares water temperatures from 2016 to this month. The lavender-colored line represents the daily averages for this year.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan says “The data are concerning. This summer’s temperatures were on average the warmest we have seen at the station.”

You can find the most recent data for all the parameters we measure at our Cage of Science here.

In addition to collecting hourly data, for nearly 30 years, we have been spot-checking sites in the Bay. The temperature data from our three Sentinel Sites (see graph below for annual average, data collected May through October each year) show an upward trend as temperatures in Casco Bay have risen by 2.4° Fahrenheit [1.3° Celsius].

annual temperatures graph 2019

“Casco Bay is changing and changing quickly,” reports Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. “That’s why we have launched the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund, which will help us put two more Continuous Monitoring Stations in the water, one near Portland and one near Harpswell, and operate all three stations for ten years.”

The $1.5 million Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund will be used over the next decade to understand the ways in which our waters are changing, while we engage the community in assessing and adapting to climate change. Friends of Casco Bay has raised 87% of its goal for the Fund. You can read more about the Fund, our 10-year plan, and make a secure donation here.

Science: We help you see what is going on beneath the surface of the Bay

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:

Donate to Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund

September 9, 2020

We are 91% of our way to our $1.5 million goal! Help us go over the top! Friends of Casco Bay is creating a $1.5 million fund to be used over the next ten years to understand how Casco Bay is being affected by climate change. We will launch and… Read more

Keeping up with the Casco Baykeeper

September 4, 2020

For Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, the summer has been full of moments of concern and moments of magic. How was your summer? Summer means being on the Bay! Staff Scientist Mike Doan and I continued to collect our seasonal data on the health of Casco Bay by land and sea.… Read more

More eyes on Casco Bay

August 25, 2020

The meaningful observations by hundreds of Volunteer Water Reporters are making a difference for the health of Casco Bay, especially during COVID-19. Casco Bay encompasses 200 square miles of water, has more than 578 miles of shoreland from Cape Elizabeth to Phippsburg, and includes hundreds of islands. To help keep… Read more

How rainstorms affect the Bay

August 18, 2020

Today’s rain reminds us that heavy rainstorms can deliver a significant insult to the health of Casco Bay. Rainwater runoff resulting from intense storms flows into the Bay, bringing with it a host of pollutants including nitrogen, pesticides, oil, and heavy metals. If rainfall is heavy enough, the large dose… Read more

Make a difference for a decade

August 13, 2020

Casco Bay is changing and changing quickly. Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, increasing amounts of stormwater runoff, acidification — we are seeing dramatic shifts in a variety of conditions, all likely to significantly impact our economy, heritage, and way of life. We are creating a $1.5 million Climate Change and… Read more

Casco Bay is heating up

August 6, 2020

Seem hotter than usual? Yes, indeed. Our Continuous Monitoring Station has been collecting hourly data on the health of the Bay for more than four years. Data from the station show that this summer has been the hottest one we have recorded since our “Cage of Science” has been in… Read more

And how is your summer going?

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.

 

  • Photo by Kevin Morris

    Since early June, Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell has been attending bi-weekly meetings of the South Portland Fertilizer Working Group to assist the City in drafting a fertilizer ordinance.

 

  • 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.
    Photo by Kevin Morris

    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!

 

  • Photo by Kevin Morris

    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!
Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen Photo credit: Dave Dostie

Thank you for Nabbing Nitrogen with us!

Thank you to everyone who made our Nabbing Nitrogen day a success!

Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen Photo credit: Dave Dostie
Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen
Photo credit: Dave Dostie

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.

2016 Nabbing Nitrogen Sampling Locations Map
This map shows were all 90 samples were taken on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Click on the map to see a larger version.

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.

We have just sent the samples off to a laboratory for analysis and hope to be able to share the results in the fall. You can support our effort by making a donation to help defray the costs of the laboratory samples here. The Nabbing effort had great coverage in the media. Thank you to those who interacted with the media. Journalists and reporters appreciated your enthusiasm as much as we did!

Here are a few news stories about the event:
http://www.wcsh6.com/news/local/volunteers-nitrogen-nabbers-hit-casco-bay/268913554
http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/dozens-of-volunteers-collect-casco-bay-water-samples
http://www.wmtw.com/weather/sarahs-brain-storm/green-slime-belongs-on-game-shows-not-in-our-water/40303392
http://news.keepmecurrent.com/friends-of-casco-bay-hold-water-sampling-flash-mob

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I sign up?

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?

Sources of Nitrogen to Casco Bay
Source: Castro, M. S., Driscoll, C. T., Jordan, T. E., Reay, W. G., and Boynton, W. R., 2003, Sources of Nitrogen to Estuaries in the United States. Estuaries 26, No. 3: 803-814.

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?
Just one.

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. Email slyman [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 if weather 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.
  • Pick up pet waste.

Calculate your nitrogen footprint at

http://cbf.org/news-media/multimedia/nitrogen-calculator

http://n-print.org/sites/n-print.org/files/footprint_java/index.html#/home

Who are our partners?

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.

To learn more about why nitrogen is a problem, see our Bay Paper here.