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Sign up for Nabbing Nitrogen, a Clean Water Act Day of Action!

More Nabbing Nitrogen Information and Frequently Asked Questions:

Why are we Nabbing Nitrogen?

Coves and nearshore areas of greater Portland Harbor are showing signs of stress from too much nitrogen. Nuisance algal blooms are smothering mud flats and some eelgrass beds are thin and covered with small plants or epiphytes. These are signs of excess nitrogen in our waters. We are part of a stakeholder process to establish nitrogen limits for the area that will in turn be used to regulate and reduce excess sources of nitrogen that are causing these problems. Our Nabbing Nitrogen community science effort will give us an important snapshot of nitrogen loading across Portland Harbor.

We will use the data to create a map of nitrogen levels. This will add to our nitrogen data set, which includes the results of our Nitrogen Nab five years ago and to the data our staff collect. All of these data allow us gain a better understanding of sources of nitrogen and areas with excessive amounts of nitrogen. All of this data helps Friends advocate to reduce nitrogen pollution.

Thank you for helping!

What is Nabbing Nitrogen?

You and countless other community members who care about Casco Bay will spread out around Portland Harbor. You and your fellow volunteers will stand ready on docks, beaches, and piers along the Portland and South Portland waterfronts, as well as in kayaks and boats of all kinds in the harbor. At the same moment, you will all scoop water into sample jars that will be sent to a laboratory for nitrogen analysis. The data that you collect that morning will strengthen our work to set science-based nitrogen limits in Clean Water Act permits that will reduce pollution into Casco Bay.

Why does Nitrogen matter?

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient found in all life forms and ecosystems. A healthy amount of nitrogen in Casco Bay supports the base of the food chain. But too much nitrogen can harm the health of the Bay. 

Excess nitrogen in Casco Bay primarily comes from three human sources: municipal wastewater, stormwater runoff (including lawncare chemicals), and air pollution. When excess nitrogen enters the Bay it can spur algal blooms that decrease oxygen levels and water clarity, contribute to coastal acidification, and more. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the impacts of nitrogen pollution, as warmer waters encourage algal blooms and stronger storms send more stormwater into the Bay. By Nabbing Nitrogen with us on Sunday, August 7, you will be helping us map nitrogen levels across Portland Harbor in support of our work to reduce nitrogen pollution. 

Some Friends of Casco Bay may remember that we organized a similar Nabbing Nitrogen event in 2016. By joining us for this second nitrogen nab, you will add to our nitrogen data set, which includes data our staff collect each year as well as the  Nab from five years ago. By volunteering to get your hands wet this year, you will be helping Staff Scientist Mike Doan and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca as they work with the state to set nitrogen criteria for coastal waters. The science-based criteria will be used to set limits in Clean Water Act permits to reduce nitrogen pollution. Mike and Ivy are grateful for your help.

Why at this date and time?

Sampling on an outgoing tide is the best way to measure the influence of land-based sources of nitrogen pollution to Casco Bay. We hope more than 100 community members, including sea kayakers and boaters, will volunteer and sample simultaneously at on the outgoing tide at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 7. By taking part in this community science effort, you will help us create a snapshot of nitrogen concentrations across Portland Harbor, allowing us to better understand sources of nitrogen pollution into Casco Bay.

I can’t sample at 9:30 a.m. on August 7. How can I participate?

Nitrogen Nabbing can be done only at the specified time so that samples are collected simultaneously, to help us create what scientists call a synoptic 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. If you cannot participate on August 7, you can help recruit friends, colleagues, and family members to join us. Email us at volunteer [at] cascobay [dot] org and we can discuss ways you can help. 

You can also sign up as a Water Reporter and collect observational data anytime. Learn more about that here.

Why are you sampling only in Portland Harbor and the Fore River? What about the rest of Casco Bay?

Portland Harbor currently shows signs of stress from nitrogen pollution. This comes as no surprise as the Harbor is Maine’s largest port and hosts many of the largest nitrogen dischargers in the state. We are working with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to develop nitrogen criteria that will be used to evaluate dischargers into the Harbor and to set nitrogen discharge limits in Clean Water Act permits. 

What if weather is an issue?

You will be asked to monitor our website www.cascobay.org for any notifications regarding weather conditions. We will also provide you with updates via text and email. Weather contingencies include the following:

  • If there is a small craft advisory warning, we will Nab Nitrogen only by land (docks and piers) and not by boat or kayak.
  • If heavy weather (thunderstorms, for example) is predicted or approaching, we will cancel the event. 

We want you to participate only if you feel safe. Use your best judgment in any inclement weather. No water sample is worth getting injured or swept away! Also be sure to follow all State of Maine and Centers for Disease Control guidelines regarding the pandemic.

What if I have a problem or an issue arises during the Nab, on the morning of August 7?

Call us! Once you sign up to volunteer, you will be provided with ways to contact us so we can provide you with the support you need and help deal with contingencies that may arise. 

When will we see the data and results from Nabbing Nitrogen?

The water samples will be frozen and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Laboratory analysis can take a long time. 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 in early 2023.