Rick Frantz keeps an eye on Casco Bay as he commutes between his home on Great Diamond Island and Andy’s Old Port Pub, the restaurant that he and his wife Jennifer Fox own on the Portland waterfront. When he sees something out of the ordinary, good or bad, he takes a photo using the Water Reporter app on his smartphone. During his work day, Rick may pause to capture images of an extreme high tide flooding the waterfront or trash adrift in the Bay.
Rick was one of the first friends of Casco Bay to start using the app that is building a network of observers to document, organize, and share their posts. Rick is an incredible ambassador for this volunteer effort. He has been recruiting friends and neighbors to join the observing community.
Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman oversees the program. She says, “Water Reporter is transforming how we connect with our volunteers to identify and help us address threats to the Bay, building a community around clean water.”
Currently, 114 Water Reporters are recording their observations on how the Bay may be changing. These observations can be cause for worry or for celebration. One day, Rick posted a photo of a large accumulation of fish scales floating near a wharf. His report, complete with date, time, and location, led to the Department of Environmental Protection halting unpermitted discharges from a fishing vessel.
Another day, Rick noticed a new patch of eelgrass growing off Diamond Cove, a sign of healthy waters. Having a smartphone or camera at the ready encourages volunteers to capture unusual events, like his neighbor’s sighting of nearly 200 cormorants and gulls herding fish onto the shoreline of Great Diamond Island.
A photo is worth a thousand…
In keeping with our focus on climate change, we encourage volunteers to use Water Reporter to monitor sea level rise. King Tides, the highest tides of the year, give us a glimpse of the future. The photos can document current coastal flooding such as submerged streets and eroding beaches. These images help us all visualize what the “new normal” high tides may look like as sea levels continue to rise.
Chesapeake Commons created the Water Reporter app in partnership with Waterkeeper Alliance (of which we are a founding member). Says Erin Hofmann, Data Science and Communications Lead for Chesapeake Commons, “Friends of Casco Bay is one our most active groups in terms of members, number of posts, and ongoing efforts. Water Reporter has been around since 2014. Every winter, posts would slow to a trickle or stop altogether. I couldn’t believe how frequently posts kept rolling in from Maine this winter — bucking our long-held belief that people don’t engage in environmental efforts in the cold months. Leave it to Mainers to get outside, regardless of the weather, to keep the observations flowing!”
The more of us who are keeping watch on the environmental health of the Bay, the better protected our coastal waters can be. Sign up to become part of our observing network or just check on what is being posted at cascobay.org/waterreporter.