Monitoring the Bay: science that helps keep Casco Bay blue
We keep an eye on the health of Casco Bay.
It may be hard to believe today, but in the late 1980s, a report entitled “Troubled Waters” labeled Casco Bay as one of the most polluted estuaries in the nation. That report inspired a group of concerned citizens to form Friends of Casco Bay in 1989, to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.
When we were founded, pollution was widespread, but the truth was that no one had a handle on the environmental health of the Bay. So Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne, our first employee, launched our Water Quality Monitoring Program, enlisting staff and volunteer Citizen Stewards to “take the pulse” of Casco Bay using proven scientific methods.
Monitoring the water allows us to look at what’s beneath the beautiful view. We have been collecting data on the water quality of Casco Bay since 1992. For over 25 years, we have maintained and added to one of the largest and most important long-term data sets on marine water quality in New England.
The data allowed us to address these questions:
- How healthy is the Bay?
- Where are problem areas?
- What influences the health of the Bay?
Over that time, we have learned much about the Bay.
What we have learned
- Casco Bay is generally healthy, compared with other estuaries.
- Year after year, our data has identified Portland Harbor, the New Meadows embayment, and the mouth of the Harraseeket River as the most environmentally challenged areas in Casco Bay.
- The healthiest regions of the Bay are Broad Sound, Maquoit and Middle bays, and the offshore waters near Halfway Rock.
- By sampling both along the shore and offshore, we determined that land-based origins contribute significant sources of excess nitrogen.
- The bottom water of the Bay has become more acidic, a worrying trend that mirrors what is happening worldwide.
- Summer is lasting longer beneath Casco Bay. Water temperatures are staying warmer into the fall.
- In order to better understand how the Bay is changing, we are increasing the frequency of data collection.
Based on what we understand about the health of our waters, and the technology available to us, the questions we are asking about the health of the Bay have changed, as have the ways we collect data. Today, we are not just asking about the Bay’s health at specific sites, we are collecting data to see how the Bay is changing and what effects the changing climate may be having on our waters.
We see water as fundamental habitat. Improving water quality is the focus of our work. Clean water makes the difference for all species living in and on the Bay—including us! The challenges to water quality range from the effects of pollutants entering the Bay, to the impacts of climate change—increasing temperatures, lower oxygen levels, and dips in pH.
We do not collect data merely for the sake of collecting data. Our monitoring efforts are used to inform advocacy and education efforts. We are making science and information accessible to encourage better decision-making and to inspire communities around the Bay to help protect the health of our coastal waters. These efforts have led to the reduction of pollution into the Bay from point sources, such as industrial facilities, overboard discharges, and other straight pipes into the Bay.
As the threats to our coastal waters change, we will continue to keep an eye on the health of the Bay.
Our staff is collecting data and observing changes to health of the Bay through the following projects:
Our Continuous Monitoring Station is using the latest technology to collect data every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This station will help us better understand the changing chemistry of our coastal waters and track trends over time.
Our staff scientists are collecting snapshots on the health of our waters at 12 shore side sites around the Bay, May through October.
Our staff are out in our Baykeeper boat, collecting data from the surface to the sea bottom, giving us a profile of the Bay’s water quality.
We are looking at whether and what types of microplastics are in the Bay. Learn more about the impact of these tiny plastics.
Over the past two years, more of our coves are becoming covered by nuisance algal blooms. We are noting the extent and longevity of these blooms.
We are working with Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, and others to protect this important habitat.
Our volunteer Citizen Stewards are helping us collect data and observe changes to the health of the Bay through the following projects:
The Citizen Stewards Program educates local residents about marine protection issues while harnessing the energy of volunteers to collect much-needed data and observations on the health of Casco Bay.
Volunteers help us track outbreaks of nuisance algal blooms by reporting the excessive green algae you see.
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