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The looming question for the future— How is Casco Bay changing?

Photograph by Kevin Morris • Aerial support provided by LightHawk

We see water itself as fundamental habitat. When water quality deteriorates, eelgrass, plankton, clams, and other marine creatures suffer. Thanks to our 25-year data set on water quality in Casco Bay, we now have a better overall understanding of the health of the Bay. We understand when and which areas of the Bay are likely to exhibit challenged water quality conditions.

Armed with this baseline data, we can now begin to address the question How is the Bay changing?—thus, the establishment last year of our first automated Continuous Monitoring Station. We will also continue to monitor selected sites at the surface, to supplement the historical data set compiled by our Citizen Stewards Program. And, we will look more intensively, using surface-to-bottom transects, at those regions of the Bay which present challenged conditions. New data and observations may help us begin to understand how climate change, excess nitrogen, and the changing chemistry of Casco Bay may be impacting the ocean food web.

Our Nabbing Nitrogen event in 2016 signaled to us that there is a huge reservoir of goodwill from people who want to help protect the health of the Bay and are willing to do that in short bursts of data collection efforts. We foresee new volunteer opportunities in this type of data collection, as well as in expanding other community service projects, such as coastal clean-ups, storm drain stenciling efforts, and issue-education events to inspire Champions for the Bay.

Citizen Steward volunteers will continue to be key to our organization as they help us move into this next phase of work to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Casco Bay belongs to all of us, and this Bay is fortunate to have so many Friends.

Cathy L Ramsdell, CPA, CGMA
Executive Director

Cathy Ramsdell Interview

What we have learned from 25 years of water quality data

Since 1992, more than 650 volunteers have gotten their hands wet in our Citizen Stewards Water Quality Monitoring Program, complementing the work of our staff scientists in assessing the environmental health of Casco Bay. This science is the foundation of much of our community engagement and advocacy efforts.

Volunteer Citizen Stewards measured dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity, water clarity, and pH at nearly 40 shoreside sites on the same date and time on ten Saturdays from April through October, to create a simultaneous snapshot of surface conditions around the Bay.

Our staff scientists have monitored offshore at 10 stations, from surface to sea floor, aboard our research vessel, every month of the year.

The data allowed us to address these questions:

  • How healthy is the Bay?
  • Where are problem areas?
  • What influences the health of 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.

Volunteer Appreciation & Annual Member’s Meeting

Friends of Casco Bay’s 2016 Volunteer Appreciation Celebration & 2018 Annual Members Meeting

Volunteer Appreciation Celebration
& 2018 Annual Members Meeting

Join us as we recognize those who help us protect the health of Casco Bay. We will provide the updated Casco Bay Health Index based on data collected by volunteer Citizen Stewards over the past 25 years, and we will share new program directions.

When: Tuesday, January 23, 2018, 5:30-8 p.m.
[snow date: January 24, 2018]
5:30 Hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, Program begins at 6:30

WhereDiMillo’s On the Water, 25 Long Wharf, Portland, ME 04101
Free parking while at event.

Donation to attend is appreciated, not required. Suggested donation: $10 per person
If making a donation to attend this event, RSVP here

If you want to RSVP without making a donation, email Sarah Lyman at slyman [at] cascobay [dot] org or call our office at (207) 799-8574.

 

Back Cove August 2nd, 2017

Our “Slime Watchers” Are Keeping an Eye on the Bay

Back Cove August 2nd, 2017
Friends of Casco Bay volunteer Deb Dawson took this algal bloom photo over Portland’s Back Cove this summer to document how much the green slime had spread.

If you have ever thought about buying a drone but could not figure out what to use it for, take a lesson from Deb Dawson, a professional photographer and one of our volunteer water quality monitors. This past summer, Deb took her talents to even greater heights—right over Back Cove in Portland with her new drone outfitted with a video camera.

Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, who regularly walks Baxter Boulevard, had reported seeing green algae growth spreading across Back Cove. She says, “We know that nitrogen fertilizes green plants in the ocean just as it does on land. It would be great if we could determine what is causing this bloom – excess fertilizer? – stormwater runoff? – sewage discharges? – a lack of predators? – car and factory emissions? – or all of the above!”

Before launching her drone, Deb checked with the Portland Jetport to make sure the route she had scouted out would not interfere with the traffic pattern of landing and departing planes.

Deb’s images confirmed what Cathy had feared: the Cove was quickly becoming carpeted in green slime. An email alert went out to Friends of Casco Bay members and the news media.

Other “green slime” reports have come in from other parts of Casco Bay. Report excess green slime by emailing slimewatchers@cascobay. org. Take a photo and tell us the location, with coordinates and landmarks, if you can.

Nabbing Nitrogen results

Nabbing Nitrogen Flash Mob: What We Learned

Nabbing Nitrogen results
Nitrogen levels were high at every place we sampled. The highest levels of
nitrogen were found closer to land, in tidal creeks and near combined sewer
overflows. Lower nitrogen levels were found further from shore.

On Sunday morning, July 10th, 2016, at precisely 10:10 a.m., 97 people knelt down along the edge of Portland Harbor and scooped up small vials of water from Casco Bay. They were not praising Poseidon—they were Nabbing Nitrogen.

A recent heavy rain had flushed a surge of stormwater into the Fore River, so we were not surprised that
the analysis of their water samples found elevated levels of nitrogen. The most important takeaway of the event, though, was that there is an amazing Casco Bay community of volunteers ready and willing to get involved when we send out a call to action!

Interactive Casco Bay Health Index

Interactive Health Index

Friends of Casco Bay has developed the Casco Bay Health Index, an easy-to-interpret, visual guide to the health of the Bay. The Index allows us to integrate data from selected water quality parameters into a single value to compare and rank each site as Good, Fair, or Poor.

 

Now we have our new Interactive Health Index!

By clicking here, or the image below, you can see and interact with the Health Index. The Interactive Health Index will open in a new tab. By clicking on the dots you can see more about each sampling location.

Interactive Casco Bay Health Index

Overall, the water quality in Casco Bay is good, but there are instances when low oxygen, low pH, and murky waters are cause for concern. The 2016 Health Index reveals that over 31% of the sites are considered Poor, but more than 36% of the sites meet the Good standard.

The relative rankings were calculated by analyzing dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and pH data from shoreside sites that our volunteer Citizen Stewards monitored from 2012 to 2016. The values we chose to use were the 90th percentile of the dissolved oxygen percent saturation, the mean of the Secchi depth, and the mean of the diurnal differences in pH.

Commonly Asked Questions about the Casco Bay Health Index

 

What is the Casco Bay Health Index?

The Casco Bay Health Index was developed to provide a reliable, uncomplicated composite indicator of the Bay’s health, while also illustrating relative levels of eutrophication. The Index allows the scientifically-sound data collected through Friends of Casco Bay’s Water Quality Monitoring Program to be presented in a format that is easy to understand and to update.

 

What is the goal of the Index?

The goal of the Health Index is to present water quality information in an easy-to-understand visual format by condensing a large amount of existing data into a single score for each monitoring site. By summarizing a suite of environmental parameters into one score for each water quality monitoring site, each site can be ranked relative to one another, and trends—if there are any—can be more readily identified. This product, while quantitative in nature, should be considered a qualitative place to begin to determine environmental health. The sites are assigned colors—red, yellow or green, and are mapped to indicate the health of the waters around Casco Bay. Then we can ask: Which sites, based on the selected criteria, require a closer look? What is the relative condition of sites across a region? Are these conditions improving or degrading over time?

 

Where do the data for the Health Index come from?

The data used for the Health Index come from Friends of Casco Bay’s Citizen Stewards Water Quality Monitoring Program. Volunteers are well-trained using EPA-approved protocols developed by Friends of Casco Bay. They monitor specific sites and collect the data twice a day on 10 appointed Saturdays, between April and October. The Index incorporates the data for a 10-year span of time and can be updated annually by adding the most recent year’s data and eliminating the oldest. We can also look at the Index in five year increments to compare changes over time.

 

Which of the existing water quality parameters are most appropriate to use in the Index?

Friends of Casco Bay currently monitors five physical and chemical water quality parameters through our Citizen Stewards Water Quality Monitoring Program: temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen (DO), Secchi depth, and pH. Of these, three have been selected for use in the Health Index—DO, Secchi depth, and pH.

 

Dissolved oxygen (DO) DO is expressed as Percent Saturation in order to incorporate temperature and salinity. When water holds all the oxygen it can at a given temperature and salinity, it is said to be 100% saturated. At a given site during a given sampling event, temperature and salinity are measured, and DO is measured in milligrams per liter (mg/l) and then compared with the mg/l for 100% saturation in those conditions. We look at the distribution of the Percent Saturation data; we consider the lowest 10th percentile as the worse-case conditions for a particular site. That 10th percentile threshold, expressed as a Percent Saturation number, becomes a component of the Health Index for that site.

 

Simply averaging all the DO data for a site might obscure the full extent of any challenged conditions. For example, if a site is eutrophic, wherein nitrogen pollution levels have resulted in a huge algal bloom, there will be large swings in DO levels between the morning and the afternoon; simply looking at the mean would obscure these swings.

 

Secchi depth Secchi depth is a measure of water clarity. The Index uses a mean of the data to characterize each site. Sites with more organic matter and sediments in the water will be murkier and will exhibit reduced clarity, resulting in shallower (lower) Secchi depth measurements.

 

pH pH is a measure of the acidity of the water. pH data exhibit tremendous variability—diurnal differences through the day and seasonal shifts through the year. The Water Quality Monitoring Program requires that measurements be collected at 7:00 a.m. and then again at 3:00 p.m. on each monitoring day. This allows for a look at the change in conditions over the course of a day. The pH at a site is influenced heavily by respiration and photosynthesis. Respiration by algae, both seaweeds and phytoplankton, adds carbon dioxide to the water, which lowers pH. Measurements collected in the early morning, at 7:00 a.m., reflect the conditions found after a night of respiration and no photosynthesis. Photosynthesis of course requires sunlight and removes carbon dioxide from the water, raising pH. By afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., pH measurements will reflect the result of photosynthesis. The change between the morning and afternoon measurements, termed the diurnal swing, can be indicative of the magnitude of respiration and photosynthesis, and, indirectly, the amount of algae in the water. Since an excessive bloom of algae is one symptom of nitrogen pollution, a large diurnal swing in pH can serve as an indicator of excess nitrogen. A small change in pH is expected in a healthy, productive coastal system, but a relatively large swing can indicate a challenged site. We calculate the difference between the morning and afternoon readings, the diurnal swing, then amass that dataset to calculate the mean for the Health Index for that site.

 

What ranges are most appropriate for the component parameters?

For each of the three components of the Health Index, we have defined ranges, between which we would expect to see worse-case and best-case conditions. These ranges have been defined by looking not only at data for Casco Bay, but also data from other regions, state and federal guidelines, and relevant scientific literature.

 

Parameter: 0 point value 100 point value
Percent Saturation of Dissolved Oxygen 65% 95%
Secchi Depth (meters) 0.2 m 3.0 m
pH (diurnal swing) 0.4 0.1

 

How is the Health Index score calculated?

Each of the components calculated for a given site is plotted along the scale for that parameter. We use a natural logarithm formula to determine where on the scale of 0 to 100 a particular component falls. For example, a site’s calculated 10th percentile threshold for the Percent Saturation parameter will fall between 65% and 95% at a specific point on the scale between 0 and 100. The same is done for the Secchi depth component and the diurnal swing in pH. Now we have three numbers which fall between 0 and 100. These are added together and divided by 3 to obtain the mean, which is the Health Index score for that site.

 

How are the final Health Index scores presented?

After each site has a Health Index score associated with it, it can be classified as Good, Fair, and Poor, determined by score thresholds. A score of 85 and above is considered “Good”, a score of 70 to 84 is “Fair”, and anything below 70 falls into the “Poor” category.

 

What is eutrophication?

Eutrophication occurs when too many nutrients (and occasionally other factors) fuel explosive plant growth. While nitrogen is an essential nutrient in marine systems, too much nitrogen can become a pollutant when it triggers excessive algal growth. This growth can result in low DO measurements, shallow Secchi depth readings, and wide variations in pH.

Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen Photo credit: Dave Dostie

Did we Nab Nitrogen? We sure did!

Mike Doan at Friends of Casco Bay’s Annual Members Meeting. Photo credit: Kevin Morris.
Mike Doan at Friends of Casco Bay’s Annual Members Meeting. Photo credit: Kevin Morris.

On January 24, 2017, Research Associate Mike Doan stood before an audience of volunteers and supporters at Friends of Casco Bay’s Annual Members Meeting. He reminded them, “A year ago at this volunteer celebration, we proposed the idea of Nabbing Nitrogen, to get people involved in water quality monitoring on one day, at one moment in time. If we’d recruited 50 volunteers, we would have considered it a success. More than 170 people signed up to volunteer to sample for nitrogen!”

Volunteers lined docks and other access points to Nab Nitrogen on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Photo credit Dave Dostie.
Volunteers lined docks and other access points to Nab Nitrogen on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Photo credit Dave Dostie.

Our Nabbing Nitrogen event became a flash mob, where volunteers scooped up jars of seawater at precisely 10:10 a.m. on July 10, 2016. The weather was awful, so we had to cancel plans for boaters to sample out on the water. Though limited to land-based sites, volunteers would not be deterred. They lined the shoreline of Portland and South Portland on both sides of the Fore River. Mike championed, “It was the volunteers and their enthusiasm and energy, despite the rain, that made the event such a success.”

Lindsay Wold and Chaz Wilcoxen with their Nabbing Nitrogen sample
Lindsay Wold and Chaz Wilcoxen with their Nabbing Nitrogen sample

On that particular morning, we experienced a heavy rain that followed a long dry spell. This made for ideal conditions for collecting data on a storm event. We collected and analyzed 90 samples, which Mike used to construct a map of nitrogen levels around Portland Harbor at this one point in time. He wasn’t surprised to find that nitrogen levels were higher than normal.

Why do we worry about too much nitrogen in Casco Bay?
Nitrogen is an essential plant nutrient, critical for growing. In the ocean, nitrogen nurtures plant growth, from single-celled phytoplankton to large seaweeds. But too much nitrogen triggers excessive algae growth that can turn the Bay green. When the plants die, decomposing bacteria remove the oxygen from the water and release carbon dioxide, making the water more acidic.

Over the last 100 years, the amount of nitrogen available for plant growth has more than doubled, thanks to the invention of commercial fertilizers and the increase in the burning of fossil fuels. Human sewage, air pollution, and rainwater washing fertilizers and animal wastes off yards and farms add excess nitrogen to our coastal waters.

Mike said, “Do you remember last summer, when we saw large mats of green algae in Back Cove in Portland and Mill Cove in South Portland? Those carpets of ‘green slime’ smothered anything trying to live underneath them. In South Portland, we also found that the mud beneath the algal mats was highly acidic.”

Too much nitrogen in the water can impact the nursery of the sea. “Phytoplankton and seaweeds can make the water murky, limiting sunlight to eelgrass,” explained Mike. “We are fortunate that Casco Bay has a lot of eelgrass. Eelgrass is our ‘rain forest.’ It serves a number of purposes: it holds sediments in place, helping to prevent erosion, dampens wave action, which protects the shoreline, and most importantly, provides hiding places for juvenile marine animals.”

Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen Photo credit: Dave Dostie
Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen
Photo credit: Dave Dostie

We will meet with sewage treatment plant operators and stormwater managers to discuss what all the data means.

Already, with the help of our volunteers and great media coverage of our event, people know that there is a lot we each can do to reduce the flow of nitrogen into the Bay. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca told the audience at our Annual Meeting that they can help by:

  • Not using fertilizer on their yards and practicing BayScaping to minimize the need for lawn chemicals
  • Keep rainwater from running off our driveways and yards
  • Replacing lawns with rain gardens or permeable pavement
  • Support efforts by local municipalities to reduce nitrogen-laden sewage overflows into the Bay
  • Support our work with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to set responsible limits on nitrogen discharges into coastal waters
Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen
Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen
Photo credit: Dave Dostie

WMTW Meteorologist Sarah Long was one of the many volunteers that participated in this sampling event. You can see her coverage of the event here: http://www.wmtw.com/article/citizen-scientists-help-keep-casco-bay-healthy/8972719.

 

2016 Casco Bay Health Index

Casco Bay Health Index – Updated with 2016 data

2016 Casco Bay Health Index

 

Friends of Casco Bay has developed the Casco Bay Health Index, an easy-to-interpret, visual guide to the health of the Bay. The Index allows us to integrate data from selected water quality parameters into a single value to compare and rank each site as Good, Fair, or Poor.

Overall, the water quality in Casco Bay is good, but there are instances when low oxygen, low pH, and murky waters are cause for concern. The 2016 Health Index reveals that over 31% of the sites are considered Poor, but more than 36% of the sites meet the Good standard.

The relative rankings were calculated by analyzing dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and pH data from shoreside sites that our volunteer Citizen Stewards monitored from 2012 to 2016. The values we chose to use were the 90th percentile of the dissolved oxygen percent saturation, the mean of the Secchi depth, and the mean of the diurnal differences in pH.

Commonly Asked Questions about the Casco Bay Health Index

 

What is the Casco Bay Health Index?

The Casco Bay Health Index was developed to provide a reliable, uncomplicated composite indicator of the Bay’s health, while also illustrating relative levels of eutrophication. The Index allows the scientifically-sound data collected through Friends of Casco Bay’s Water Quality Monitoring Program to be presented in a format that is easy to understand and to update.

 

What is the goal of the Index?

The goal of the Health Index is to present water quality information in an easy-to-understand visual format by condensing a large amount of existing data into a single score for each monitoring site. By summarizing a suite of environmental parameters into one score for each water quality monitoring site, each site can be ranked relative to one another, and trends—if there are any—can be more readily identified. This product, while quantitative in nature, should be considered a qualitative place to begin to determine environmental health. The sites are assigned colors—red, yellow or green, and are mapped to indicate the health of the waters around Casco Bay. Then we can ask: Which sites, based on the selected criteria, require a closer look? What is the relative condition of sites across a region? Are these conditions improving or degrading over time?

 

Where do the data for the Health Index come from?

The data used for the Health Index come from Friends of Casco Bay’s Citizen Stewards Water Quality Monitoring Program. Volunteers are well-trained using EPA-approved protocols developed by Friends of Casco Bay. They monitor specific sites and collect the data twice a day on 10 appointed Saturdays, between April and October. The Index incorporates the data for a 10-year span of time and can be updated annually by adding the most recent year’s data and eliminating the oldest. We can also look at the Index in five year increments to compare changes over time.

 

Which of the existing water quality parameters are most appropriate to use in the Index?

Friends of Casco Bay currently monitors five physical and chemical water quality parameters through our Citizen Stewards Water Quality Monitoring Program: temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen (DO), Secchi depth, and pH. Of these, three have been selected for use in the Health Index—DO, Secchi depth, and pH.

 

Dissolved oxygen (DO) DO is expressed as Percent Saturation in order to incorporate temperature and salinity. When water holds all the oxygen it can at a given temperature and salinity, it is said to be 100% saturated. At a given site during a given sampling event, temperature and salinity are measured, and DO is measured in milligrams per liter (mg/l) and then compared with the mg/l for 100% saturation in those conditions. We look at the distribution of the Percent Saturation data; we consider the lowest 10th percentile as the worse-case conditions for a particular site. That 10th percentile threshold, expressed as a Percent Saturation number, becomes a component of the Health Index for that site.

 

Simply averaging all the DO data for a site might obscure the full extent of any challenged conditions. For example, if a site is eutrophic, wherein nitrogen pollution levels have resulted in a huge algal bloom, there will be large swings in DO levels between the morning and the afternoon; simply looking at the mean would obscure these swings.

 

Secchi depth Secchi depth is a measure of water clarity. The Index uses a mean of the data to characterize each site. Sites with more organic matter and sediments in the water will be murkier and will exhibit reduced clarity, resulting in shallower (lower) Secchi depth measurements.

 

pH pH is a measure of the acidity of the water. pH data exhibit tremendous variability—diurnal differences through the day and seasonal shifts through the year. The Water Quality Monitoring Program requires that measurements be collected at 7:00 a.m. and then again at 3:00 p.m. on each monitoring day. This allows for a look at the change in conditions over the course of a day. The pH at a site is influenced heavily by respiration and photosynthesis. Respiration by algae, both seaweeds and phytoplankton, adds carbon dioxide to the water, which lowers pH. Measurements collected in the early morning, at 7:00 a.m., reflect the conditions found after a night of respiration and no photosynthesis. Photosynthesis of course requires sunlight and removes carbon dioxide from the water, raising pH. By afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., pH measurements will reflect the result of photosynthesis. The change between the morning and afternoon measurements, termed the diurnal swing, can be indicative of the magnitude of respiration and photosynthesis, and, indirectly, the amount of algae in the water. Since an excessive bloom of algae is one symptom of nitrogen pollution, a large diurnal swing in pH can serve as an indicator of excess nitrogen. A small change in pH is expected in a healthy, productive coastal system, but a relatively large swing can indicate a challenged site. We calculate the difference between the morning and afternoon readings, the diurnal swing, then amass that dataset to calculate the mean for the Health Index for that site.

 

What ranges are most appropriate for the component parameters?

For each of the three components of the Health Index, we have defined ranges, between which we would expect to see worse-case and best-case conditions. These ranges have been defined by looking not only at data for Casco Bay, but also data from other regions, state and federal guidelines, and relevant scientific literature.

 

Parameter: 0 point value 100 point value
Percent Saturation of Dissolved Oxygen 65% 95%
Secchi Depth (meters) 0.2 m 3.0 m
pH (diurnal swing) 0.4 0.1

 

How is the Health Index score calculated?

Each of the components calculated for a given site is plotted along the scale for that parameter. We use a natural logarithm formula to determine where on the scale of 0 to 100 a particular component falls. For example, a site’s calculated 10th percentile threshold for the Percent Saturation parameter will fall between 65% and 95% at a specific point on the scale between 0 and 100. The same is done for the Secchi depth component and the diurnal swing in pH. Now we have three numbers which fall between 0 and 100. These are added together and divided by 3 to obtain the mean, which is the Health Index score for that site.

 

How are the final Health Index scores presented?

After each site has a Health Index score associated with it, it can be classified as Good, Fair, and Poor, determined by score thresholds. A score of 85 and above is considered “Good”, a score of 70 to 84 is “Fair”, and anything below 70 falls into the “Poor” category.

 

What is eutrophication?

Eutrophication occurs when too many nutrients (and occasionally other factors) fuel explosive plant growth. While nitrogen is an essential nutrient in marine systems, too much nitrogen can become a pollutant when it triggers excessive algal growth. This growth can result in low DO measurements, shallow Secchi depth readings, and wide variations in pH.

Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen Photo credit: Dave Dostie

Thank you for Nabbing Nitrogen with us!

Thank you to everyone who made our Nabbing Nitrogen day a success!

Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen Photo credit: Dave Dostie
Mac Richardson Nabbing Nitrogen
Photo credit: Dave Dostie

We had 97 dedicated volunteers come out and 90 Nitrogen samples were collected!

To all of our Nabbing Nitrogen volunteers—THANK YOU for braving the chilly rain to sample with us. We were amazed by your enthusiasm and dedication.

We want to also thank the 55 boaters, kayakers, canoers, and paddleboarders who planned on Nabbing Nitrogen with us—we are sorry that the weather did not cooperate with us. The fog, mist, winds, and early morning rain made it unsafe to ask dozens of boaters and kayakers to cross the busy harbor. It was better to be safe than sorry.

You can see photos from the event on our Facebook Page. Thank you to our photographers Dave Dostie and Sonny McAlpin for capturing the day.

For those who signed up to be Nabbers: Since this is our first time completing this event, we would appreciate any feedback you have on the effort. If you signed up for the event, whether or not you participated, you can fill out our feedback form below or click here to open it in a new window. You can also email Sarah at slyman [at] cascobay [dot] org with any feedback you have.

2016 Nabbing Nitrogen Sampling Locations Map
This map shows were all 90 samples were taken on Sunday, July 10, 2016. Click on the map to see a larger version.

Thank you to the businesses and organizations that allowed us to use their private access points on the water or sampled themselves: Centerboard Yacht Club, Chandler’s Wharf, DiMillo’s Restaurant and Marina, Gowen’s Marine, Maine State Pier, Portland Company, Portland Harbor Master, Portland Water District, Portland Yacht Services, South Port Marina, Sprague Energy, Sunset Marina, the U.S. Coast Guard, Union Wharf, and Waynflete.

Thank you to Mill Creek Hannaford and Gulf of Maine Research Institute for allowing us to use their parking lots as coordination sites. Thank you to Andy’s Old Port Pub for hosting our debriefing.

Our intern, Joshua Clukey, was essential in the success of this event. Thank you, Josh, for your tireless efforts.

Our Nabbing Nitrogen effort is a partnership between Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the City of South Portland.

This project has been funded in part by Davis Conservation Foundation, Birch Cove Fund at Maine Community Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Seth Sprague Educational and Charitable Foundation, RBC Blue Water Project, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the Bowdoin College Common Good Grant, and other generous supporters.

We have just sent the samples off to a laboratory for analysis and hope to be able to share the results in the fall. You can support our effort by making a donation to help defray the costs of the laboratory samples here: https://donate.cascobay.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=298.

The Nabbing effort had great coverage in the media. Thank you to those who interacted with the media. Journalists and reporters appreciated your enthusiasm as much as we did!

Here are a few news stories about the event:
http://www.wcsh6.com/news/local/volunteers-nitrogen-nabbers-hit-casco-bay/268913554
http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/10/dozens-of-volunteers-collect-casco-bay-water-samples
http://www.wmtw.com/weather/sarahs-brain-storm/green-slime-belongs-on-game-shows-not-in-our-water/40303392
http://news.keepmecurrent.com/friends-of-casco-bay-hold-water-sampling-flash-mob

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I sign up?

Sign up has been closed. We invite you to fill out our volunteer application to learn about our other volunteer opportunities and get put on our email list for the specific volunteer opportunities you are interested in.

Why are we picking on Nitrogen?

Sources of Nitrogen to Casco Bay
Source: Castro, M. S., Driscoll, C. T., Jordan, T. E., Reay, W. G., and Boynton, W. R., 2003, Sources of Nitrogen to Estuaries in the United States. Estuaries 26, No. 3: 803-814.

Too much nitrogen can turn Casco Bay from a healthy blue to a slimy green. All living things need nitrogen to grow, but an overdose can trigger excessive growth of nuisance algae, reduce water clarity, and lower oxygen levels. This process also releases carbon dioxide, creating acidic conditions that can make it harder for clams and mussels to build and maintain their shells.

By nabbing nitrogen with us, you will help us map nitrogen levels in the Fore River and Portland Harbor—one of the most heavily populated regions in the state. This may allow us to identify problem areas and explore sources of pollution. This effort will provide the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with data needed to ground truth its nitrogen model, used to predict nitrogen sources and distribution in this region. Your effort will help our advocacy efforts to establish a limit on how much nitrogen may be discharged into coastal waters.

Where does nitrogen pollution come from?

Excess nitrogen comes into Casco Bay from three different sources, almost in equal proportion—from sewage, from stormwater runoff, and from air pollution (see pie chart). Water quality sampling by Friends of Casco Bay has shown that nitrogen pollution is most severe in areas that are close to shore, near river mouths, at sewer overflow pipes, and other locations where stormwater runoff reaches the Bay. That is why we have created this event to “Nab Nitrogen.”

Nitrogen is contained in human, pet, and animals wastes, in decaying plants and animals, and is released during the combustion of fossil fuels.  Sewage discharges from wastewater treatment plants, combined sewer overflows, and leaky septic systems add nitrogen from human waste. Stormwater runoff from land flushes oil and dirt from paved surfaces, pet wastes, and fertilizers from lawns, farms, parks, golf courses, into the ocean. Nitrogen also descends from tailpipes and smokestacks, chimneys, and power plants.

Why at this date and time?
Sampling on an outgoing tide is the best time to measure the influence of land-based sources of nitrogen pollution to Casco Bay. We hope 130 community members, especially sea kayakers and boaters, will volunteer and sample simultaneously at 10:10 a.m., just before low tide. These samples will help us create a snapshot of nitrogen concentrations in the Fore River and Portland Harbor, allowing us to better understand land-based sources of nitrogen pollution in this region of Casco Bay.

How many sites can I sample?
Just one.

I can’t sample at 10:10 a.m. on July 10. How can I participate?
Nitrogen Nabbing can be done only at the specified time so that samples are collected simultaneously, to help us create the 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. Email slyman [at] cascobay [dot] org to let us know you are interested.

Why are you sampling only in the Fore River and Portland Harbor?
The Maine DEP is refining a model on nitrogen inputs into our coastal waters and needs more data in the Fore River and Portland Harbor. By nabbing nitrogen, you are helping ground truth this model while helping cities, like Portland and South Portland, identify sources of nitrogen moving into Casco Bay.

While this initial effort on July 10 will take place only in Portland and South Portland, we hope to nab nitrogen in the future, in other communities around Casco Bay.

What if weather is an issue?
In case of dangerous weather, you will be asked to monitor our website www.cascobay.org for any notifications regarding weather conditions. Please provide us with a cell phone number that we can text to reach you. Weather contingencies include the following:
• If there is a small craft advisory, we will nab only by land and not by sea.
• If heavy weather is predicted or approaching (hurricane, thunderstorms), we will reschedule the effort to July 24 from 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (on that day sampling will take place at 8:24 a.m. due to the difference in tides).

What if I have some other issue that arises on July 10?
Please call our office at (207) 799-8574 in the event that you need any help with any contingencies that may arise.

When will we see the results, the snapshot of nitrogen levels in Portland Harbor on July 10?
The samples will be frozen and sent to a laboratory for analysis. 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 this fall.

What can I do to prevent nitrogen pollution?

  • Don’t use fertilizers on your lawn.  
  • Plant or retain bushes and trees to keep water from running off your property and into waterways. Go to cascobay.org/bayscaping for more tips on how to grow a green yard to keep Casco Bay blue.
  • Conserve energy, both in terms of electrical usage and gasoline consumption decreases the nitrogen oxides that lead to acid rain formation.  
  • Buy local—locally produced goods have not been transported significant distances, reducing gas consumption and refrigeration during transportation, which also decreases nitrogen emissions.  
  • Eat organic foods. Because they are not treated with commercial fertilizers, further decreasing nitrogen pollution.  
  • Maintain your septic system by having an annual inspection of the tank and having regular pump outs by a licensed professional.
  • Empty your boat’s holding tank at a pumpout facility at your marina or through Friends of Casco Bay’s mobile pumpout service.
  • Burn less oil, wood, and coal to reduce pollution from smokestacks.
  • Keep your car tuned up to reduce pollution from tailpipes.
  • Pick up pet waste.

Calculate your nitrogen footprint at

http://cbf.org/news-media/multimedia/nitrogen-calculator

http://n-print.org/sites/n-print.org/files/footprint_java/index.html#/home

Who are our partners?

This effort is a partnership between Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the City of South Portland.

This project has been funded in part by Davis Conservation Foundation, Birch Cove Fund at Maine Community Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Seth Sprague Educational and Charitable Foundation, RBC Blue Water Project, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, the Bowdoin College Common Good Grant, and other generous supporters. You can support this effort by making a donation here.

To learn more about why nitrogen is a problem, see our Bay Paper here.

Health Index Score over time for Custom House Wharf in Portland

Questions Lead to More Questions

Have you ever heard grown-ups growl at persistently curious children, “You ask too many questions!”?

Never say that to scientists. As soon as they start to research one question, scientists discover more questions along the way — lots more.

Since 1993, Friends of Casco Bay has trained more than 650 citizen scientists to monitor the health of Casco Bay. The data these volunteers collect twice a day on ten selected Saturdays between April and October comprises the basis of the Casco Bay Health Index. The Health Index provides a reliable, easy-to-understand indicator of the Bay’s overall water quality.

Our scientists use the Health Index to begin to address these questions, and more:

  • Which sites, based on below-average water quality, may require a closer look?
  • What is the relative condition of sites across a region?
  • How does each site compare to the other?
  • Are there parts of the Bay where we should be able to expect better or worse conditions?

 

At our Volunteer Appreciation Celebration, Research Associate Mike Doan reported on his analysis of the last five years of water quality data in order to answer another question: How has each site changed over time?

 

Mike said that the Health Index will be updated every year, incorporating the most recent data collected by our citizen scientists. This way, we can track which sites are improving, which are staying the same, and which are being degraded. “Wouldn’t it be great, moving forward, for us to focus more attention on those regions that consistently score lower?” Mike mused.

ike shared a graph of Health Index Score over time for Custom House Wharf in Portland, which showed the greatest change — for the worse. The yellow bars indicate a Health index score of “fair” and the red bars indicate a health index score of “poor”.