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Learning Resources for Water Reporters

Water Reporter learning resources

There are many observations around the Bay we are interested in. We have created resources to help you learn about each. We have also answered commonly asked Water Reporter questions here.

You can reach Sara Freshley with any questions. Get her attention quickly by calling or texting (207) 807-0785 or email: sfreshley [at] cascobay [dot] org.

There are two types of resources:


2. Hashtags: remember what to post and categorize them


You can post about any changes you are seeing around Casco Bay. From seeing new healthy eelgrass growth to seeing concerning amounts of nuisance bright green algae on mudflats, documenting change is helpful.

There are areas we are especially focused on. Our hashtags, can help you remember what those are.

Think WATERS! Note that some letters stand for two hashtags. Each hashtag listed below links to more information about that type of post.

  • #wildlife (Share the wildlife you see)
  • A   #algae (Report algae blooms and mudflats without algal blooms)
  • T   #trash (Report marine trash)
  • E   #erosion (Identify coastal erosion sites) and #eelgrass (Share changes in eelgrass growth)
  • R   #reportpollution (Report pollution: sheen, foam, discolored discharges)
  • S   #sealevelrise (Revisit the same location to capture high tide impacts) and #saltmarsh (Share changes in areas of saltmarsh over the seasons and years)

You may use multiple hashtags.

In addition, we document changes in sand dunes by using #dunes. You can also use other hashtags. Volunteers have created hashtags for topics they post about regularly, ex. #climatechange, or a area they document often, ex. #willardbeach.


Share wildlife you see around the Bay

We are especially interested in changes in the wildlife you are seeing. 


Help us track Nuisance Algal Blooms around the Bay

An excessive amount of nitrogen can trigger the excessive growth of nuisance algae, reduce water clarity, and lower oxygen levels. Tracking of algae from absence to concerning amounts is helpful because we can’t predict where and when a small patch of algae may become a nuisance algal bloom.

Please share any algal blooms you see on Water Reporter. For those that want to, you can adopt a specific Bay location to observe regularly, weekly if possible. See the map below for location ideas.

Here are photos of different algal blooms around the Bay.


Follow these steps to take part:

  1. Choose a location to observe weekly, May through mid-November. You can choose one from our suggested sites on the map below or select your own.
  2. Plan your arrival time so that you have enough time to get to your location and take a photo, or series of photos. The ideal time to take these photos is between an hour before and after low tide. Low tides can be found here: https://www.usharbors.com/harbor/maine/ or on a tide app.
  3. Make sure to use the location pin to mark your location and share your post with the Friends of Casco Bay group.
  4. Take your picture! Try to use a landmark to stand next to in order to make your picture as replicable as possible from week to week.
  5. Add a comment including:
    • the presence and absence of algal growth
    • the name of your site (while not required it helps others scrolling through the app)
    • share if the growth has increased or decreased since your last visit
    • the area of the intertidal zone (low, mid, or high) that the algae is growing in
    • include the date and time if you are not posting in real-time
    • make sure to add #algae. It can be placed in your text or at the end of your comment.
    • Examples:
      • #algae absent at Southern Maine Community College beach
      • Southern Maine Community College beach still has algae present in the middle intertidal zone. The growth has decreased since last week. This image was taken at 9:02 AM on June 2, 2020. #algae
  6. Get close! In addition to your ‘big picture’ photo, try to get some close-up photos to help us get a better sense of the type of growth. Ensure you stay safe.
  7. Go back every week – it does not have to be on the same day – to help the Friends of Casco Bay learn more about algal blooms and the health of our Bay!

Location ideas

This map shows some of the locations that we are concerned about potential nuisance algal blooms. Once you click on a location, a sidebar will popup. If a volunteer has selected to track that location regularly, they will be listed. If you would like to track a location regularly please let Sarah know volunteer [at] cascobay [dot] org. You can also contact Sarah if you know of a location that should be tracked that is not on this map.

What’s the big deal with green algae?

In the marine environment, nitrogen jumpstarts the growth of algae and phytoplankton, tiny plants that form the base of the ocean food chain, which in turn nurture zooplankton, clams, oysters, crabs, lobsters, fish, and whales. But too much nitrogen may trigger large blooms of nuisance algae or “green slime,” which can reduce water clarity and lower oxygen levels, making life harder for marine organisms. These nuisance algal blooms may be triggered by excess nitrogen from fertilizers, sewage, pet wastes, and emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks. For more information on excess nitrogen and green algae visit https://www.cascobay.org/our- work/science/nuisance-algal- bloom-tracking/.


Share trash you see around the Bay

If you see a large amount of trash around Casco Bay, let us know using #trash. We will use this infmroation to add it to the areas we encourage and hold coastal cleanups in the future. 

You can help Casco Bay at anytime by completing your own coastal cleanup. See tips about how to do that here. If you do this, consider sharing the results of your pickup on Water Reporter with a summary of cleanup. Use #trash for that as well.


Share eelgrass you see around the Bay, healthy beds, patchy beds, and large amounts of washed up eelgrass

Use #eelgrass.

Extreme low tides are a great time to go looking for eelgrass. That means when we send a reminder to do our #sealevelrise posts during astronomically high tides, during that same stretch of days, you can look for eelgrass during low tides. Share images of these and track them over the season and years.

Eelgrass is different than salt marsh grass which we are also interested in. This image will help you know which you are observing.


Share erosion you see around the Bay

Use #erosion.

Report Pollution

Notify us of pollution you see around the Bay

Please note: If you see an emergency along the Bay like a an oil spill, or a stranded or injured animal or person, please contact the appropriate authority. You can find a list of them here.

After reporting anything of concern to the appropriate authority, also share it on Water Reporter using #reportpollution.

Sea Level Rise

Help us track how sea levels are rising around the Bay


These two images of Falmouth Town Landing show how repeatable sea level rise images can be. The image on the left was taken by Trish Peterson on February 11, 2020 and the image on the right was taken by Anne Wood on September 22, 2020.

Not only is it happening, sea level rise is accelerating.

Who: You and other Water Reporters around Casco Bay

What:​ We look to YOU to help us capture images of the unusually high tides that will occur by using the Water Reporter app on your smartphone. These tides are due to ​​changing ​​seasonal​ ​​weather patterns​ and the gravitational effects of the Earth, Sun, and Moon.

​​​Additional​ variables ​that affect the tides are winds, storm surge, polar melt, and barometric pressure, which can push water farther up the shoreline​. With all of these aspects influencing the tides, it is important that we capture images of rising sea levels in Water Reporter​.

When: The Northeast Outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s seasonal high tide flooding bulletins show when our area may experience higher than normal high tides. Bulletins are updated quarterly and can be found here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/high-tide-bulletin/. We also send reminders to Water Reporters via email.

Once you identify the days we will have higher than normal tides, high tides can be found here: https://www.usharbors.com/harbor/maine/. (If want to know the observed water level after the fact, see NOAA’s Portland Tide Station page.)

The ideal time to take these photos is during the hour around high tide, from half an hour before to half an hour after high tide. Plan your arrival time so that you have enough time to get to your location and take a photo, or series of photos.

As always, adjust for weather and safety, and follow all State of Maine and Centers for Disease Control guidance regarding the pandemic. Please wear a mask as needed and stay more than 6 feet away from anyone with whom you don’t share a household.

Where: Beaches, coastal parks, and public access sites along Casco Bay are perfect locations. For example: Back Cove or East End Beach in Portland, Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, Willard Beach, Bug Light and Spring Point Light Parks in South Portland, Mackworth Island in Falmouth, Wolfe Neck State Park in Freeport, Graveyard Point Town Landing in Harpswell, any of the islands in Casco Bay, and many many more places.

Note: If you are at a Portland or South Portland coastal flood monitoring site, you can take part in our partner Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Coastal Flooding Citizen Science Project. Learn more about our partnership.

HowUse the Water Reporter app. Stand at least two strides up from the water line. Take the photo looking down the shoreline. Include some sort of structure or landmark in your picture, such as a pier, jetty, breakwater, building, or dock, for perspective. This will help you and others take images from the same location and angle in the future. Remember to type #sealevelrise into your post to help us categorize it.

Why: Your photos can help document current coastal flooding, such as eroding coastlines and submerged streets. As sea levels continue to rise, your images will help us all visualize what the “new normal” high tides may look like.

Ensure your safety! No photo, however dramatic, is worth getting injured or swept away! ​It is especially important to adhere to state and local social-distancing requirements. ​

Community members have observed the rise in sea level over the years. Coastal communities are experiencing greater storm surges and higher high tides.

Maine geologists are planning for a three to five foot sea level rise along the coast over the next 100 years. On top of the long-term rise, abrupt sea level change on the order of months, rather than years, can also occur.

Sea level rise and storm surges threaten much of the infrastructure — the homes, roads, and water treatment plants — we have built near the ocean. The predicted impacts include beach erosion; landslides; loss of wildlife habitats; and drowned infrastructure, causing more sewage overflows, flooded streets, broken pipes, and costly repairs.

Salt Marsh

Help us track how salt marshes are around the Bay are changing

Use #saltmarsh when sharing images of salt marshes around Casco Bay. Be sure to differentiate between eelgrass and saltmarsh using the image below as a guide.

Common questions about Water Reporter

Click on the questions below (in the blue boxes) to see the answer. Answers are based on using the Water Reporter app, not a camera and computer. If you have questions about using Water Reporter on the computer or a question not answered here, email volunteer [at] cascobay [dot] org.

How do I make a post?

Once you are logged in on the app, look for the blue circle with the pencil. Click on the icon to fill out all of the information needed and once you are ready to post, click on the check-mark in the upper right hand corner to submit. You can also follow the step-by-step instructions in the Visual Guide section of our website.

How do I access posts I have made in the past?

In the Water Reporter app, click on the house icon in the lower right-hand corner to access your profile. In the upper left-hand corner are three lines where you are able to click “View Profile”. Once you have clicked this your posts will appear.

How do I edit my post?

Follow the instructions on “how do I access posts I have made in the past”. Once you are viewing your posts there are three dots. Click on the dots and you will be able to either delete or edit posts that you have made. You can edit any of the details including the location, hashtags, and sharing the post with Friends of Casco Bay.

How do I see other people’s posts?

In the bottom left corner there is a globe icon. Click on the icon and it will bring you to your feed, where you can view local posts and posts from groups and/or people that you follow.

How do I follow someone?

In the middle of the bottom of the screen there is a magnifying glass. Once you have clicked on this a few icons will appear. The first icon is how you search individual people that you want to follow. The second, groups, is where you can follow groups like Friends of Casco Bay, which allows you to share your posts with us. This is especially helpful, because we can use your posts in more ways.

How do I share my posts with Friends of Casco Bay?

First, join our group by using the “how do I follow someone?” instructions. Then, when posting,  ensure you see the Friends of Casco Bay logo and that the green circle is filled in. More information can be found here: Visual Guide.

How do hashtags work?

When filling in the description portion of your post you should tag what you are seeing. This organizes and categorizes your posts. To do this, click the pound symbol (#) and follow it with the word or phrase that you wish to hashtag. Make sure there are no spaces if you are hashtagging something that includes multiple words and double-check to make sure everything is spelled correctly.

Example: #ReportPollution #Algae. More information can be found here: Learning Resources.

What are the hashtags we should be using?

Think WATERS for our most commonly used hashtags.

W – #Wildlife

A – #Algae

T – #Trash

E – #Eelgrass & #Erosion

R – #ReportPollution

S – #SeaLevelRise & #SaltMarsh

Check out this link for more about hashtags and some Learning Resources

You can also use other hashtags: We use #dunes to share changes in sand dunes. Water Reporters can also create their own. Some folks use #climatechange.  Some also indicate the location in their description by tagging their location, ex. #willardbeach. (Just prioritize getting the location correct in the map in the first step.)

Where should I go to report?

See our Locations to Observe Map for ideas. It shows public locations that may be a good place to see changes in the Bay. Don’t feel limited to these locations as there are many more around the Bay. If you have access to a private area of the Bay or live or summer on an Island, those areas are of particular interest.

What should I be reporting?

Any changes you see around Casco Bay are of interest. See the Learning Resources for a list of hashtags, each linked to a paragraph, or two, about what to report for each tag. Some of these include: algae blooms, eelgrass, and trash. Currently, we are particularly interested in nuisance and harmful algal blooms. The more posts about #algae, the better!

How often should I be posting?

As often as you are willing too. Some volunteers choose a specific location that they visit regularly to track changes in the Bay, while others grab a picture whenever it works for them. We gladly accept any form of reporting that works on your schedule and even just one post helps us to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

How do I put the location of my picture if I am posting a day or two after being there?

When creating a post, click the box just above the map where it says “Find an address, city or postal code”. Type in a nearby address you know. The map will zoom to that location and you can then move the “drag me” pin to the exact point you were in when taking your photo. It is helpful to use one finger to hold the map in place and another to drag the pin over. More information can be found here: Visual Guide

Is there an age-limit to the app or any restrictions?

If you are 18 years or older there are no restrictions. If you are under the age of 18 we make sure to have parental permission. The only other restriction there would be is that in order to use the app you need to have access to a smartphone, or a camera and a computer. It is easiest to use the app if you give it permission to know your location when setting it up or using it for the first time.

Where can I find written instructions for water reporting?

If you are looking for a step-by-step guide, check out our How-To. Our Water Reporting Learning Resources may be useful.

What are you doing with the information that we are collecting and posting?

Water Reporters’ documentation has helped to spur emergency responses to pollution and algal blooms, identify impaired streams flowing into the Bay, and document evidence of climate change. Over time, Water Reporters’ contributions are helping us amass a collection of visual data on the health of the Bay and how it may be changing. With this collection of visual data, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, utilizes it in our advocacy efforts for Casco Bay.

Where do I find information about the Water Reporter app and the organization that developed it? ?

The Water Reporter app is owned and operated by The Commons, a nonprofit that provides software solutions to individuals and organizations seeking to improve water quality and the environment. We appreciate their work and support!

I’m still having trouble or a technical issue. What can I do?

Check our troubleshooting information and/or email your question to volunteer [at] cascoaby [dot] org.