You may know that Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Station—AKA our “Cage of Science”—gives us vital data about the health of the Bay. But did you also know that observations of what sea life is growing on and hanging out in the station also give us important information about conditions of our waters? In this video, Research Associate Mike Doan shows us some of the sea critters that visited the Cage of Science in August.
As always, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca has been on the move, working across Casco Bay, the state—and the nation—on efforts to protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.
A peek into her appointment calendar shows some of the highlights so far this year, as she continued to track Legislative issues and to comment on proposed wastewater and stormwater discharge permits that the Department of Environmental Protection issues to municipalities.
I became coordinator of the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) for 2018.
I will help coordinate research and advocacy on ocean acidification with a strong statewide network of policy makers, fishermen, shellfish growers, and scientists. This year-long role supports our work examining coastal acidification and excess nitrogen.
I invited Portland’s Water Resources Manager, Nancy Gallinaro, and Portland Water District’s Director of Wastewater Services, Scott Firmin, to travel with me to meet the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1 Administrator, Alexandra Dapolito Dunn. We highlighted our joint efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution, combined sewer overflows, and stormwater pollution to Casco Bay. I shared our data showing the impacts of climate change on Casco Bay.
Administrator Dunn accepted our invitation to come to Maine in June to attend a meeting of the Maine Nutrient Council, a group convened by Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. Afterward, Administrator Dunn will tour the Bay on our Baykeeper boat, a great opportunity for a close-up view of issues that threaten the water quality of Casco Bay.
I traveled to Washington, DC, at the invitation of Ocean Conservancy, to meet with our Congressional delegation and ask for full funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA. The measures we pressed for passed in the omnibus budget!
Back in Maine, I submitted comments opposing offshore drilling and then attended a meeting hosted by the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management, to voice Friends of Casco Bay’s opposition to offshore drilling. I supported a resolve that was passed unanimously by our state legislature expressing its opposition to offshore drilling.
I testified at a public hearing as we worked to swiftly defeat a bill that would have practically eliminated the ability of municipalities to pass pesticide ordinances. If you contacted legislators after receiving our email alert about this issue, thank you! The bill was defeated!
I traveled to New Hampshire to attend a meeting of experts concerned about the rise in harmful algal blooms throughout the region, so we could learn more about new species appearing in Casco Bay.
I attended a meeting in West Bath, which drew together people who live and work along the New Meadows River, to discuss how expanding efforts in aquaculture may figure into the many uses of the estuary.
Research Associate Mike Doan gave Kate Simpson and Kayla McMurray, staffers for Senator Susan Collins, a ride to our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth. I met them at our “Cage of Science” as we demonstrated how we use technology to monitor the Bay hourly, 365 days a year. We explained that though we do not receive funding directly from the EPA, the Agency has a vital role in advising state regulators on strategies to reduce pollution, funding other research, and enforcing the Clean Water Act. This work helps us all protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.
The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) is a volunteer partnership that seeks to coordinate the work of governmental agencies and private organizations and citizens who are studying and implementing means to reduce the impacts of or help adapt to ocean and coastal acidification.
With my colleagues in the MOCA Partnership, I hosted a workshop for nearly 60 scientists, harvesters, policy makers, and advocates on What We Know about Ocean Acidification and Maine’s Lobsters. The event at Bowdoin College featured current research on the effects of climate change on lobsters and emphasized the need for ecosystem-level, long-term studies.
As the year progresses, I look forward to continuing to keep you updated on the biggest issues affecting the health of the waters we all love.
Covered with sea squirts, sea stars, and other marine hitchhikers, the newest member of our monitoring team looks like an abandoned lobster trap. It may be homely, but we are pretty impressed with what it does, collecting water quality data hourly, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is our Continuous Monitoring Station, which will help us answer the question “How are our coastal waters changing over time?” Research Associate Mike Doan calls it “the cage of science.”
It has been just over a year since we placed a carbon dioxide sensor and a data sonde—an electronic device that records temperature, pH, and other characteristics of water quality—inside this modified lobster trap and moored it in healthy waters near the center of Casco Bay off Cousins Island in Yarmouth.
After one full year, we have over 8,760 hours of data on oxygen levels, carbon dioxide, pH (the level of acidity of the water), salinity, temperature, chlorophyll fluorescence (estimated phytoplankton abundance), water clarity, and water depth.
Thanks to our 26-year data set on water quality in Casco Bay, we understand when and which areas of the Bay are likely to exhibit challenged water quality conditions that require further study. Armed with this baseline data, we can now consider how to address the question, How is the Bay changing?
The steady flow of data from the Station already is helping us detect and document how climate change and emerging coastal stressors may be affecting the Bay. Hourly data helps us identify daily, seasonal,
and annual trends to better understand the extent to which ocean acidification may be impacting the water chemistry of Casco Bay. In future years, we hope to deploy two more “cages of science,” one in challenged waters in Portland Harbor and one near Harpswell to help detect the influence the Kennebec River has on Eastern Casco Bay.
What is a data sonde?
A data sonde, such as the one being used by Research Associate Mike Doan, is an oceanographic
monitoring instrument that takes multiple measurements of water quality simultaneously. In
addition to being used as part of our Continuous Monitoring Station, data sondes are used by
staff scientists in other water quality monitoring efforts from shore and by boat. The data is
downloaded to a computer and analyzed to provide a long-term picture of water quality over
time. We thank Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and our generous members for helping fund
our Continuous Monitoring Station’s first year.
Climate researchers have found that the ocean absorbs about 25% to 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from smokestacks and tailpipes. When this excess carbon dioxide mixes with water, it can make the water more acidic. This is called ocean acidification.
More excess carbon dioxide can end up in coastal waters as a result of nitrogen pollution from fertilizers, stormwater runoff, and sewage. This nitrogen overdose stimulates a population explosion of tiny plants called phytoplankton. When these plants die and decay, bacteria consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide in bays and coves. This creates even more acidic conditions for coastal critters. This is called coastal acidification.
Coastal acidification is one more stressor for shellfish species already challenged by other impacts, such as predation by milky ribbon worms and gluttonous green crabs that flourish in warming waters. Red tides and other harmful algal blooms, exacerbated by nitrogen runoff, may close clam flats to shellfish harvesting for weeks or months.
In 2014, Friends of Casco Bay participated in the Maine Ocean Acidification Study Commission, which issued a report to the Legislature in January 2015, recommending many actions to confront this threat to our fisheries, including establishing an ocean and coastal acidification council. Efforts in 2015 to pass a law creating the council failed to garner government support.
Rather than letting a worthwhile idea die, Friends of Casco Bay, the Island Institute, and University of Maine/Maine Sea Grant formed the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) to coordinate the efforts of government agencies, private organizations, and citizens. Since its first meeting in March 2016, MOCA has held two symposia, organized working groups, and met with coastal legislators.
Outreach events and coordinated water monitoring are planned for 2017.
What can you do about coastal acidification?
Eliminate the use of fertilizers on your property
Make sure your septic system is doing its job
Reduce carbon emissions by driving less
Support clean energy policies
Opt for meatless Mondays – or more. Eating vegan reduces greenhouse gases significantly
With increasing research showing that coastal acidification is a threat to Casco Bay, here’s what we’re doing about it.
Why do scientists and sea farmers worry about acidifying seawater? Studies by researcher Dr. Mark Green and oyster grower Bill Mook have found that increasing the acidity of seawater can stress sea creatures such as clams, oysters, and mussels. Some shellfish farmers in Maine have already begun storing seawater to use during times when stormwater runoff makes the water unsafe for developing oysters.
Climate researchers have found that the ocean absorbs over 25% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by smokestacks and tailpipes. This is called ocean acidification. In addition, carbon dioxide ends up in coastal waters from nitrogen pollution from fertilizers, pet wastes, stormwater runoff, and sewage discharges. This nitrogen overdose stimulates a population explosion of tiny phytoplankton. When these plants die and decay in bays and coves, bacteria consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide. This creates even more acidic conditions for coastal critters. This is called coastal acidification.
Dr. Mark Green of St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, is a leading researcher on the impact of coastal acidification on clams. He has been testing how baby clams respond to mud from clam flats along our coast, including Casco Bay. He calls clams the “canaries in the coal mine.” Nitrogen runoff, he asserts, is hampering the ability of clams and oysters to build and maintain their shells. Dr. Green found that clam spat and baby clams simply dissolve at levels of acidity found in some parts of Casco Bay today. He calls this unfortunate condition “death by dissolution.”
Dr. Green’s experiments in the lab inspired us to investigate conditions in Casco Bay. In 2011, we sampled the pH (acidity) of the mud on about 30 clam flats around Casco Bay. In 2012 and 3013, we returned to one of those clam flats to monitor conditions every two weeks across three seasons and varied tide cycles to get a better understanding of how natural fluctuations impacted pH. We also put baby clams (spat) into “clam condos” into a clam flat in Freeport, protected from green clams by screens. After one week and two weeks in the mud, we found significant pitting in their shells, indicating that the shells were dissolving.
Coastal Acidification is one more stressor for shellfish species that already are challenged by other climate change impacts, such as predation by gluttonous milky ribbon worms and green crabs which flourish in warming waters. Red tides or other harmful algal blooms may close clam flats to shellfish harvesting for weeks or months each year. The density and duration of these harmful bloom events may be exacerbated by nitrogen runoff, which provides the nutrients to nourish the red tide organisms.
What are we doing about coastal acidification?
The good news is that we can do something to fight back against coastal acidification caused by nitrogen pollution. Says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, “It’s wonderful to work with so many scientists, harvesters, and policy makers who understand this issue and are working on it before coastal acidification becomes insurmountable.”
One way is to find out what we know and what we need to know about coastal and ocean acidification. Friends of Casco Bay and others realized we need a concerted effort to fight the effects of ocean and coastal acidification. In 2014, we participated in the Maine Ocean Acidification Study Commission, which issued a report to the Legislature in January 2015, recommending many actions to confront this threat to our fisheries and marine ecology in general, including establishing an on-going ocean and coastal acidification council.
Friends of Casco Bay worked with the Island Institute and University of Maine/Maine Sea Grant to create the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA). MOCA volunteers partnership seek to:
Implement recommendations of the Ocean Acidification Study Commission; and
Coordinate the work of governmental agencies, private organizations, and citizens who are studying and implementing means to reduce the impacts of or help adapt to ocean and coastal acidification.
Here are some highlights of MOCA:
March 14, 2016
MOCA held its first meeting, attended by more than 30 scientists, policy makers, and harvesters.
June 29, 2016
MOCA hosted a day-long Ocean Acidification Symposium, attended by 110 people, including some of the state’s top researchers and policy makers. Scientists shared their field experiment data and compared notes.
November 16, 2016
MOCA hosted a second symposium focused on remediation and policy. More than 50 people gathered at the State House in Augusta to discuss the possibility of developing state/ federal water quality criteria related to coastal acidification. Ivy discussed how we might use existing regulatory tools to reduce nitrogen pollution that exacerbates coastal acidification. The participants formed subcommittees to create an action plan on next steps for confronting ocean acidification through research and legislation.
Education Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca is working with the MOCA Policy Subcommittee to help organize two MOCA symposia in 2017. They will educate interested citizens and decision makers on cutting-edge science and local and state policies that may be implemented to combat acidification
Uniform data collection is the goal of Friends of Casco Bay Research Associate Mike Doan and more than a dozen other scientists on the MOCA Monitoring Subcommittee. They will work together to coordinate and standardize monitoring equipment and procedures on data collection on acidification. This uniformity will provide better understanding of nitrogen inputs into coastal waters.
What can you do about coastal acidification?
Cut down or eliminate fertilizers on lawns, gardens, and farms.
Lobby for and support a town ordinance to limit the use of nitrogen-rich fertilizers.
Reduce rainwater runoff and improve sewage treatment.
Make sure septic systems are doing their job.
Join and/or volunteer with organizations to monitor coastal waters and educate the public.
Reduce carbon emissions by driving less or driving a less polluting vehicle
Support clean energy production such as solar and wind power
Support clean energy policies such as RGGI and the Clean Power Plan
Imagine working 8,760 hours a year. Friends of Casco Bay has two water quality monitors that do just that: a datasonde, an instrument that can measure several properties of water at once, and a specialized device that only measures carbon dioxide. They are anchored together on the ocean floor in Yarmouth to collect data once an hour, every hour, year round. Appropriately, these high tech tools comprise our new Continuous Monitoring Station. These hard workers have been in place since July 2016.
Why is this hourly data vital?
The steady flow of data our Continuous Monitoring Station collects will help us detect and document how climate change and other emerging coastal stressors may (or may not) be affecting the Bay. Hourly data will help us identify daily, seasonal, and annual trends and better understand the extent to which ocean acidification may be impacting the water chemistry of Casco Bay. The station may also help us assess sea level rise. The station collects data on oxygen levels, carbon dioxide (CO2), pH (the level of acidity of the water), salinity, temperature, chlorophyll, and water depth.
In order to ensure continuous data, we have two datasondes which are swapped and refreshed every two weeks. When he arrives at the dock in Yarmouth, Research Associate Mike Doan has less than an hour to reposition the alternate datasonde so that we don’t miss any of those 8,760 hours of information.
Mike hauls up the anchored devices, uploads data from the CO2 sensor to his laptop, and scrapes off marine hitchhikers such as sea stars, tunicates, and algae. “It’s amazing how fast sea creatures occupy any available surface, including our instruments!” says Mike. Before he leaves, he replaces the datasonde with one freshly calibrated and lowers the entire Continuous Monitoring Station back onto the ocean floor. Such attention to detail provides quality assurance that the data is accurate.
While this station is busy year around, we continue to enlist volunteers to help us understand the overall health of our marine waters and to identify troubled areas of the Bay. From April to October each year, more than 90 volunteer Citizen Stewards monitor scores of shoreside sites where they measure five parameters of the surface water: pH, salinity, water temperature, water clarity, and oxygen level. If you are interested in becoming a water quality monitoring volunteer, you can learn more about the program here.
Our volunteers, staff scientists, and now our automated partners, all play a role in helping us to better understand what is going on in Casco Bay.
Thank you to funders of this project, including Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Davis Conservation Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Schwartz Family Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and WEX. We also thank our Members and the many donors, local businesses, and foundations that give us operational support to do our work each year.
At the annual Labor Day clambake on Little Diamond Island, Althea and her sister Priscilla help out at the end-of-the-season event that draws the community together for a farewell to summer. While the lobsters, sweet potatoes, sausages, and corn are roasting in a fire pit outside the hundred year-old Casino, their job is to wash and de-sand freshly harvested Casco Bay clams.
Althea recalls scooping huge handfuls of clams into 8 heavy kettles to steam them for the feast. Nowadays, they have to place the clams into the pot delicately, or else the shells may end up chipped or even shattered. Althea says that the clams they buy now are smaller and more fragile than the ones she
recalls from years back.
Althea’s observations seem to correspond to observations Friends of Casco Bay has been making over the years. We are studying Coastal Acidification, the problem of increasing acidity from the ocean absorbing carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels, and, we believe, from excess nitrogen washing into coastal waters by stormwater runoff. Fertilizers, sewage discharges, and pet wastes trigger algae blooms that add excess carbon dioxide to coastal waters.
Our data shows that the acidity of Casco Bay has increased since we began our water quality monitoring program nearly 25 years ago. In 2011, we began sampling the pH (acidity) of mudflat sediments, where soft-shell clams live. We found that the mud nearest to shore was more acidic (had lower pH) than sediments further away from sources of land-based pollution. Higher acidity makes it harder for shellfish to extract calcium carbonate from their environment, the material that clams, mussels, and other mollusks need to build and strengthen their shells.
In the summer of 2014, Friends of Casco Bay installed several clam “condos” in the intertidal mudflats of Recompense Bay in Freeport. Our goal was to see what would happen when we exposed juvenile clams to acidic mud. Research Associate Mike Doan caged baby clams inside PVC tubes and left them in the mud for several days. Microscope photographs of the tiny clam spat showed that after just one week, their shells had become pitted, showing signs of dissolving.
Valued for its rich diversity of marine life, Casco Bay was designated an Estuary of National Significance by the federal government in 1990. A technical report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on environmental benchmarks found that Casco Bay had twice as many marine organisms as other temperate bays. Since 1989, Friends of Casco Bay has been working to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.
The dots indicate work that Friends of Casco Bay volunteers and staff have done around the Bay over the past 25 years. Click on the image to see a larger version.
236,483 = Number of residents living in the Casco Bay watershed, from Bethel to the Bay (2010)
1 in 5 = Number of Mainers living in the Casco Bay watershed
578 = Miles of shoreline around the Bay
200 = Approximate area of water in the Bay in square miles
785 = Islands and exposed ledges in the Bay
$628,143,000 = Value of ocean related activities on and around Casco Bay (2011)
Working Waterfront and Scenic Postcard
Casco Bay extends from Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth to Cape Small in Phippsburg, encompassing 13 coastal communities, including two of Maine’s largest cities, Portland and South Portland, and two of Maine’s newest towns, Long Island and Chebeague Island. The Casco Bay watershed collects water across a landscape of nearly 1,000 square miles, from 42 communities between Bethel and the coast.
Casco Bay is an estuary, where rivers and tides converge. Rivers add nutrients, tides deliver cold, oxygen-rich seawater, and relatively shallow depths provide protected habitat. These factors make our estuary the feeding, breeding, and nursery grounds for 850 species of marine life in Casco Bay, from microscopic plants to migrating pilot whales, and for 150 kinds of waterbirds that nest here.
The circulation of water around Casco Bay is affected by runoff from rivers and streams, tidal action, currents, winds, and geography. Many small rivers, including the Fore, Presumpscot, Harraseeket, Royal, and Cousins, empty directly into Casco Bay, but their collective volume cannot match the influence of the Kennebec River. Even though it is not in the Casco Bay watershed, we have detected runoff from the Kennebec at Halfway Rock, nearly nine nautical miles from where the river enters the ocean.
Casco Bay is both a working waterfront—a port of call for cruise ships, oil tankers, and bulk cargo transports—and a scenic postcard of historic forts, stalwart lighthouses, and secluded anchorages.
In the mid-1800s, tanneries, foundries, slaughterhouses, and shipyards crowded the Casco Bay waterfront. Later, power plants, filling stations, tank farms, and discharge pipes from industry and sewage treatment plants were added to the shoreline. Though many of these pollution sources have been removed, polluted runoff, overflows from sewage pipes en route to sewage treatment plants, boater sewage, the threat of oil spills, and the effects of climate change jeopardize the health of the Bay.
For over 23 years, staff and volunteers have been collecting data for Friends of Casco Bay, to give us a better understanding of the health of our coastal waters. This report focuses on nitrogen, oxygen, water clarity, pH, and pesticides, to create a comprehensive overview of the water quality of the Bay.