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Joy and despair of loving Casco Bay

Out and About with the Casco Baykeeper

I am feeling the joy and despair of loving Casco Bay. This summer, we have spent glorious days on the Bay monitoring water quality and reveling in the playfulness of seals, grace of porpoises, and stunning array of seabirds. Last Friday, by invitation of the US Coast Guard (USCG), I sailed into Portland Harbor aboard the only active duty sailing vessel in the US military, the USCG Cutter Eagle. Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and I received this invitation because Friends of Casco Bay works with the USCG Sector Northern New England to protect Casco Bay from oil spills and other environmental threats. Standing aboard this 295-foot vessel, surrounded by people who work to protect our coast, was a delight and honor. 

Now the despair – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just released its sixth assessment report. The evidence is “unequivocal” that human activity has fundamentally changed the climate since the industrial era, and we now more definitively understand the dire consequences of those changes. We are still digesting the assessment, but here are some sobering takeaways:

  • Many changes, due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions, will be irreversible for centuries, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea levels;
  • Marine heatwaves will be more frequent and will continue to increase;
  • Global sea level will continue to rise for centuries due to deep ocean heat uptake and mass melt from ice sheets; and
  • Ocean acidification has increased globally over the last four decades.

In the face of this news, we were heartened by Governor Mills’ strong statement. As the Governor acknowledged, we already feel the impacts of climate change in our everyday lives —  from record breaking summer temperatures and warming waters in Casco Bay, to the smokey haze in the evening sky from wildfires across the continent. Between these impacts and the grave implications of the IPCC report, Governor Mills renewed Maine’s commitment to act now as set forth in the Maine Won’t Wait climate action plan, which we helped draft and intend to help implement. 

Friends of Casco Bay is as committed as ever to protect the coastal waters we all love. We will continue to use our Baykeeper boat to study the Bay and to convene meetings with outside colleagues to seek ways that will help Casco Bay adapt to inevitable changes. We will continue to press for policies at the local, state, and federal levels that reduce harm to the Bay and promote resilience to climate change. We will continue to take this crisis seriously, working diligently and to the best of our ability to be part of the solution.

Amid the contrasting sorrow of this climate news and the beauty and joy of being on the Bay, this summer we observed changing conditions in our coastal waters. During the drought of May and June, the Bay saw warm temperatures and saltier than normal waters. In July, historic rainfall carried an influx of freshwater to the Bay, lowering nearshore salinity to more normal levels. The wet weather also brought a resurgence of nuisance algal blooms, which our volunteer Water Reporters continue to document. Our Continuous Monitoring Stations are busily collecting data around the clock. We look forward to learning what Staff Scientist Mike Doan sees in these data, and we will host an event this fall to share that information with you. 

I hope that this report, which the United Nations Secretary General has called a “code red for humanity,” will serve as a clear wake-up call for all of us around the world to pull together to avoid the worst-case global catastrophes that are predicted. The IPCC assessment and the Maine Won’t Wait plan include sound science that reveals if we reduce our carbon footprint and capture carbon in sources such as our forests and sea grasses, marshes, and seaweeds, the negative impacts on our lives and our Bay will be lessened. Let’s figure this out together. 

Thank you for caring about Casco Bay, 

Ivy Frignoca, Casco Baykeeper