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Making Waves for a Healthier Casco Bay: A Legislative Recap

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca makes a passionate case for the health of Casco Bay.

Every year, Friends of Casco Bay spends time at the State House working to help pass laws that make Casco Bay healthier and safer. We team up with the Maine Environmental Priorities Coalition (EPC), which includes 34 groups. As a Coalition, we pick out important issues and support laws that fight climate change; make sure everyone is treated fairly, keep our land, water, and animals safe; and promote healthy communities in Maine. Ultimately, being part of the EPC helps Casco Bay because we can share our knowledge and work together to achieve more than we could on our own. 

This year we worked on issues ranging from giving people a voice on aquaculture leasing and encouraging climate resiliency to stopping the rollback of our PFAS protections and supporting the self-determination of Wabanaki Nations in our greater Maine community.

Here is a roundup of bills we worked on this legislative session: 

 

Empowering Communities to Have a Voice

LD 2065: An Act to Amend Maine’s Aquaculture Leasing Laws

photo credit: Timothy Brokaw

As it was first drafted, this bill would have required 25 people to request a hearing for certain aquaculture leases, rather than five, the current requirement. We agreed that the state needed to raise the number, but we thought 25 was too high and restrictive. We suggested they lower it to 10 instead. Lawmakers agreed with us. The Outcome: A win! This bill empowers concerned people to responsibly ask for hearings. 

 

Balancing Housing Needs with Environmental Preservation 

LD 1134: An Act to Improve Housing Affordability by Amending the Definition of “Subdivision” Under the Site Location of Development Laws

This bill aimed to change how housing developments are reviewed under Maine’s Site Location of Development Act. The proposed changes would have exempted a significant number of subdivisions from environmental review by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This review is crucial for balancing development with environmental conservation. If the changes had passed, it could have had serious negative effects for our watershed. Thankfully, we collaborated with other organizations to defeat this bill. The Outcome: Success! We opposed this bill and it was defeated.

 

Supporting Tribal Sovereignty

LD 2007: An Act Regarding the Criminal Jurisdiction of Tribal Courts

Wabanaki Nations in Maine have served as the original stewards of this land and of Casco Bay, beginning more than 12,000 years ago, and today, although there are no official tribal lands on the shores of Casco Bay, Wabanaki people still live within the watershed. An important part of Wabanaki culture is protecting our air, land, and waters. It is in partnership to those values that we support tribal sovereignty. LD 2007 was first called “An Act to Advance Self-determination for Wabanaki Nations.” The original idea was to give tribes more rights, like managing fishing and hunting on their own land. The final law that passed wasn’t as robust as the original version, but it still moved things in the right direction. The Outcome: An incremental win. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but it’s a step closer to giving tribes more self-determination and autonomy.

 

Creating Climate Resilient Communities

LD 2225 An Act to Provide Funding to Rebuild Infrastructure Affected by Extreme Inland and Coastal Weather Events

Flooding at the Falmouth Town Landing, December 2022.

We threw our support behind LD 2225, an emergency bill sparked by the havoc wreaked by recent winter storms. This legislation aimed to earmark $30 million for the restoration of critical infrastructure like docks and piers utilized by the fishing and aquaculture industries. Beyond the coast, it planned to fund adaptation, repair and improvement projects to fortify our communities against future storms, ensuring public safety and bolstering our economy. As the bill made its way through the legislative process, the Senate added provisions for mental health and social support programs. Despite our hopes, the bill failed to secure funding and ultimately died on the table. The Outcome: A disappointing loss.

 

Holding PFAS Manufacturers Accountable

LD 1960: An Act to Give Manufacturers More Time to Report PFAS in Products

PFAS can be found in many common products

This bill was about giving manufacturers of products with harmful PFAS chemicals more time to report their use to the DEP. We opposed this bill. PFAS chemicals persist in the environment and do not break down. PFAS-laden sludge has been spread on farms in our watershed. PFAS is also present in other land-based sources that leak into our waterways. The levels of PFAS in the lower Presumpscot River are high enough that Maine CDC advises eating no more than four fish a year from that section. We believe it is important to know which products have these chemicals so we can stop using them or prevent them from getting into our waters. The Outcome: Our opposition to the bill paid off—LD 1960 didn’t pass. Victory!

 

Protecting Critical Seaweed Habitats

LD 2003: An Act to Protect Access to Maine’s Intertidal Zone

You might think we would support a bill with a title like this, but we opposed its intent. A recent case brought to Maine’s Supreme Court clarified that rockweed, a critical habitat, couldn’t be harvested from the intertidal zone without landowner permission. This ruling allowed land trusts and landowners to protect this habitat. However, LD 2003 aimed to overturn this decision, claiming that harvesting rockweed is fishing. If passed, it would have allowed rockweed harvesting anywhere, regardless of landowner wishes or habitat importance. Given that rockweed is vital for a healthy Casco Bay, we stood against this bill. The Outcome: Success! We fought against this law, and it didn’t pass.

 

Advocating for Maine’s Coastal Dunes

LD 2266: An Act Regarding Restoration and Protection of Coastal Sand Dune Systems and Permitting of an Offshore Wind Terminal on Sears Island 

In February, Governor Mills announced that Sears Island was her preferred site for building an offshore wind development terminal. Following that announcement, the State learned that the proposed site has sand dunes and at least one of those dunes would be destroyed during construction. State law does not allow development in sand dunes. To address this problem, this bill was introduced. It originally would have granted an exception to the law and authorized the State to grant a permit for an offshore wind terminal located in any coastal sand dune system. We testified against the bill. The bill was then narrowed to allow a one-time exception to the law for construction of an offshore wind terminal on Sears Island, if the terminal met all other environmental requirements. To compensate for the harm to the sand dunes, the amended bill created a million-dollar fund to be used for sand dune restoration. This is not ideal, but is much better than the original bill. The Outcome: We have mixed feelings about this tradeoff. On the one hand, we urgently need to develop clean energy sources like offshore wind. On the other, how do we minimize or avoid harm to our coastal and marine environments? Avoiding harm is at the heart of our advocacy.

 

Volunteer Water Reporter Susan Woodman bends her body over to get a closer look at the eelgrass at Willard Beach, holding a delicate green blade like the hand of a friend.

A Friend to Eelgrass: A Water Reporter Helps Look After a Vital Ecosystem in Peril

Volunteer Water Reporter Susan Woodman bends her body over to get a closer look at the eelgrass at Willard Beach, holding a delicate green blade like the hand of a friend.

Susan Woodman is eager to get to the beach during the lowest of low tides to glimpse her favorite eelgrass beds. It’s 6:47 a.m. and the tide is still way out. She can spot it in the distance. Susan began photographing the eelgrass meadows at Willard Beach about a year ago as a volunteer Water Reporter for Friends of Casco Bay. “It’s become like my garden,” she says. “It’s really quite pretty, like a field of very green grass.”

view of a relatively healthy eelgrass bed underwater
A healthy bed of eelgrass growing in clean, clear water. Photo credit: Steve Karpiak.

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is a flowering marine plant that grows in shallow, coastal waters of Casco Bay and up and down the Atlantic seaboard. To the folks who named it, its long leaves looked like eels swimming in the water. For Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, it conjures up images of ballerinas swaying together with the waves.

Eelgrass habitats are vital ecosystems.

Beyond its lovely green locks, eelgrass habitats are dynamic ecosystems that play an essential role in the health of our fisheries, oceans, and planet. The eggs and larvae of bivalves, especially blue mussels and clams, get their start in these natural nurseries. Young fish, such as herring, striped bass, shrimp, and lobster, find safe refuge amongst the tall green eelgrasses. Its rooted blades also hold sediment in place, buffering the shoreline from storm damage and trapping carbon and excess nitrogen. Because eelgrass needs clean, clear water to thrive, it is an important indicator of water quality – meaning, if you’ve got healthy eelgrass, you’ve got healthy water for fish and shellfish.

These superheroes seagrasses have been quietly keeping our oceans healthy, our fisheries abundant, and our coastlines intact.

chunks of the eelgrass meadows are missing at Willard Beach.At Willard Beach, Susan notices chunks of the eelgrass meadows are missing. She points to a series of scattered sections that had once been an unbroken expanse, now divided into patches like an archipelago of islands. Susan is certain the January storms that ravaged so much of Maine’s coast also caused significant damage to the eelgrasses at Willard Beach.

Something is happening to Casco Bay’s eelgrass. This vital ecosystem is in peril.

In 2018, Casco Bay’s eelgrass was mapped by Maine Department of Environmental Protection, revealing an extensive network of eelgrass beds. But four years later, when mapped again in 202254% of all eelgrass beds in Casco Bay had disappeared – a huge loss in a short amount of time. Ivy notes, “We know eelgrass comes and goes in cycles. But a loss this catastrophic signals that something more is going on.”

These two maps show the decline of eelgrass in Casco Bay over just four years. In 2018, Casco Bay’s eelgrass was mapped by Maine Department of Environmental Protection, revealing an extensive network of eelgrass beds. But four years later, when mapped again in 2022, 54% of all eelgrass beds in Casco Bay had disappeared – a huge loss in a short amount of time.
Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection eelgrass mapping has been invaluable and revealed a need for more frequent and regular mapping. Maine DEP had temporary funding for the 2018 and 2022 eelgrass mapping. Soon afterward, Friends of Casco Bay helped to pass a bill that now funds the mapping of eelgrass across the entire Maine coast in five year cycles.

 

Underwater view of an unhealthy eelgrass bed.
Without clear sunlight reaching the leaves, eelgrass struggles to thrive in cloudy waters and places where excess nitrogen feeds blooms of algae and phytoplankton. Lawn fertilizers, wastewater, stormwater, and air pollution all contribute to nitrogen pollution. Photo credit Sonny McAplin.

What’s destroying the eelgrasses of Casco Bay? The problems offer us clues…and hope for the future.

Before attempting to restore eelgrass beds, we want to understand why they are failing. Without addressing the causes of failure, planting new eelgrass will not be successful.

Friends of Casco Bay has joined a two-year collaborative pilot project. Over the summers of 2024 and 2025, Casco Bay Estuary PartnershipManometMaine Department of Environmental ProtectionTeam Zostera, and the scientists at Friends of Casco Bay will work together on a project to study factors putting eelgrass at risk and begin testing restoration solutions.

A team of many talents.

Friends of Casco Bay scientists, Mike Doan and Heather Kenyon, will do what they do best – collect data on water temperature, water quality, nutrient concentrations, and light availability – to examine issues such as nitrogen loading and warming waters. While our partner organization Manomet will monitor the green crabs. Team Zostera divers will get us ready for phase two by studying the seed germination cycle of eelgrass. We are asking our volunteer Water Reporters to work with us to document eelgrass washed up on shore for signs of nutrient impairment, green crab damage, and other harm. Casco Bay Estuary Partnership is managing the project.

Next year, the project team will test methods for seeding eelgrass using seeds collected by Team Zostera. In coming years, Maine may need to consider seeding more heat-resistant varieties of eelgrass from regions to the south.

The hope behind the pilot project’s efforts is to start moving on solutions and restoration before it’s too late.

Map of the two eelgrass monitoring sites in Casco Bay: Broad Cove in Cumberland and off Mackworth Island
The pilot project will monitor two eelgrass beds in 2024 and 2025: one off Mackworth Island and a second site in Cumberland’s Broad Cove.

 

a closeup image f a scallop in one of Virginia's thriving eelgrass habitats
Eelgrass restoration in Casco Bay might be possible. An effort to restore eelgrass beds along Virginia’s Eastern Shore began in 2000 with a few seeds from the York River. Today, these seagrass meadows have grown to 6,195 acres—providing a home for an estimated 200,000 bay scallops reared in a hatchery. Image credit: Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Everyone can be part of the solution for Casco Bay’s eelgrass habitats.

To be a friend to the amazing eelgrasses of Casco Bay, we recommend these actions:

  • Become a BayScaper by limiting your use of fertilizers, or better yet, opting out of fertilizing your lawn and garden to reduce excess nitrogen entering the watershed (this applies to all locations in the watershed, from Bethel to the beach). If your property is next to water, plant a buffer of native plants to reduce nitrogen runoff.

  • Walk carefully at low tide to avoid stepping on fragile eelgrass beds.

  • Boat smart in shallow waters. Propellers, anchors, and mooring chains can all damage eelgrass.

  • Install high, narrow ramps and docks to avoid shading eelgrass beds.

  • Use sustainable harvesting practices to prevent damage from aquaculture moorings, lobster traps, and shellfish/worming rakes.

Susan Woodman holds her phone, ready to take photos of the eelgrass at Willard Beach.
Volunteer Susan Woodman was heartened to hear news of our pilot project because she recognizes eelgrass as an indicator of a healthy ecosystem, as well as a potential carbon sink. “Climate change is something I worry about. How can you not?” Eelgrass is increasingly being studied as a nature-based solution to addressing the climate crisis.

You might also consider becoming a Water Reporter, like Susan.

Before the tide inches up over the Willard Beach eelgrass meadows, Susan bends her body over to get a closer look, holding a delicate green blade like the hand of a friend. She notes the length of the blades, the interesting bumps and holes in the sand, and wonders what else is living amongst the eelgrass. Susan enjoys volunteering as a Water Reporter with Friends of Casco Bay. “It feels as though you’re contributing something and looking after the beach.”

Water Reporters make a difference.

As a Water Reporter, Susan is providing an important service to Casco Bay. By photographing evidence of algal blooms, sea level rise, pollution, eelgrass, wildlife sightings, and other notable observations with an app on their smartphones, Water Reporters help us see how the Bay is changing over time. This helps us learn how our communities can make better choices. If you are interested in becoming a Water Reporter, sign up here.

While the future of eelgrass in Casco Bay is indeed in peril, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca reminds us, “We do this work, because we’re hopeful.”


Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Maine DEP’s eelgrass mapping in 2022 was funded due to the passing of legislation that Friends of Casco Bay helped to pass. Maine DEP used temporary funds to do the mapping work for both 2018 and 2022. The bill that Friends of Casco Bay helped to pass will fund the future mapping of eelgrass across the Maine coast in five year cycles.


 

Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Eelgrass

You Tube Thumbnail for Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Eelgrass video

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley are joined by Staff Scientist Mike Doan for a casual conversation about the plight of eelgrass in Casco Bay and our eelgrass pilot project at our last Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper event of the season. Watch the video here.

Like coral reefs, eelgrass meadows provide a variety of critical services for our oceans and planet:

Eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay declined in size by 54 percent between 2018-2022, a loss described as “staggering” by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in a January 2023 report. Many factors can contribute to loss of eelgrass. Nitrogen pollution is one of them, and unlike other contributing factors such as warming water temperatures, the amount of nitrogen in the Bay can be controlled at a local level. Photo credit: Steve Karpiak

• Nursery habitat for fish, lobster, horseshoe crabs, and other shellfish
• Vital food source for birds and fish
• Stabilizes sediments, reducing erosion
• Raises pH levels and buffers the effects of ocean acidification
• Carbon capture, helping reduce the effect of climate change

We became alarmed when we learned that 54% of this critical habitat had disappeared between 2018 and 2022. This year we are partnering with other groups to launch an eelgrass pilot project to better understand what’s happening and explore how to restore eelgrass habitats. This is a collaborative project between Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Friends of Casco Bay, Manomet, and Team Zostera.

You can learn more about eelgrass and our pilot project by watching the Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper Eelgrass video and by reading our story A Friend to Eelgrass: A Water Reporter Helps Look After a Vital Ecosystem in Peril.

 

Harpswell sunset. Photo by Stephen G. Hobson “To be hopeful means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down to the bottom of your heart.” – Rebecca Solnit

10 Ways to Get Ready for Earth Day

Earth Day is on Monday, April 22, 2024. Here at Friends of Casco Bay, while every day is an opportunity to advocate for and protect clean waters and healthy communities, Earth Day is our reminder that collectively we can take positive actions to help nature and inspire hope.

Harpswell sunset. Photo by Stephen G. Hobson “To be hopeful means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down to the bottom of your heart.” – Rebecca Solnit

In this spirit, here are 10 ways to show up, aid, and honor this one precious Earth we share.


1) Be the eyes of the Bay.

Water Reporter Susan Woodman enjoys photographing the eelgrass at Willard Beach in South Portland. “It feels as though you’re contributing something and looking after the beach.”
Water Reporter Susan Woodman enjoys photographing the eelgrass at Willard Beach in South Portland. “It feels as though you’re contributing something and looking after the beach.”

Become a Water Reporter. Volunteer Water Reporters help us act as the eyes of Casco Bay. Water Reporters use their smartphones to photograph algal blooms, sea level rise, pollution, eelgrass, wildlife sightings, and other notable observations from on and around the Bay. Their photos are shared with our staff through the Water Reporter app, creating an archive of observational data on how the Bay may be changing over time. Sign up here.


2). Learn about superhero seagrasses.

Attend our upcoming Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Eelgrass happening online Thursday, April 25, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Friends of Casco Bay is part of a two-year eelgrass pilot project to monitor eelgrass meadows, study why they are shrinking, and, ultimately, test restoration solutions. Register to attend and learn more about this vital marine plant and the pilot project.


3) Find out what you can do about stormwater pollution by watching our Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper video on stormwater. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley have a conversation over coffee that focuses on the increasing impact stormwater has on Casco Bay and what Friends of Casco Bay is doing to help address this issue (sneak peek: it’s a lot!). They also share upcoming opportunities for you to use your voice to advocate for clean water.

 


4) Educate yourself about “forever chemicals” by watching our Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper video on PFAS in Casco Bay. PFAS are known as forever chemicals because they break down slowly in the environment. They are associated with serious health issues and can be found in many common products such as fast food packaging, nonstick pans, candy wrappers, and firefighting foam.

Coffee with Casco Baykeeper PFAS YouTube Thumbnail

Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley have a casual conversation about our partnership with Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences to sample for PFAS in Casco Bay. Ivy shares insights from what we learned during our first year of PFAS monitoring in Casco Bay and we also talk about what’s next in 2024.


5) Clean up our watershed. Put your gloves on, grab a bag, and help clean up the Casco Bay watershed.

Friends of Casco Bay volunteers, Andrea Martin, Steffy Amondi and Trish Peterson collect and log the different types of trash collected along the shore of Bug Light Park in South Portland.

Here are four cleanup events happening soon:

  • Coastal Cleanup hosted by Mere Point Oyster Co. and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust in Brunswick on Saturday, April 20.

  • South Portland Annual Cleanup hosted by South Portland Land Trust at Mill Creek Park on Sunday, April 21.

  • Earth Day Beach Cleanup hosted by Casco Bay Cleanup Project and MaineHealth Sustainability Committee at the East End Beach in Portland on Monday, April 22.

  • Red Brook Cleanup Day hosted by the Sebago Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Maine Fly Guys in South Portland on Saturday, May 4.

Thank you to the businesses and organizations hosting these events.

If none of these events work for you, host your own cleanup! Picking up waste anywhere in the watershed region is helpful to the Bay – it doesn’t have to be on the coast.


6) Celebrate sustainable cities

The City of Portland is celebrating Earth Day on Saturday, April 20 with live music, food trucks, e-bike demos, composting, stories and more. Info here.


7) Drink a beer for the Bay this April.

We are thrilled to announce that our Friends at Allagash Brewing Company have selected Friends of Casco Bay as their Charitable Partner this month! What this means is that their tasting room team forwards all funds their guests add to their tabs directly to us all April long. So if you’re looking for a tasty way to support us, head over to Allagash, enjoy a beer, and be sure to add a little extra when paying your tab!


8) Take personal action.

There are a myriad of ways to walk more gently on the earth, heal the wounds of pollution, and be part of the solutions. Here are just a few ideas:

Remember to pick up after your pooch
Photo by Sam Bengs

• Remember to pick up after your pooch, and carry it out too.

• Green your ride by biking, walking, or carpooling.

• Stop using pesticides and fertilizers on your lawn.

• Get an energy audit on your home.

• Compost or use a service like Garbage to Garden.

• Eat local.

• Use less plastic.

And remember: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin


9) Share some Earth love!

Clammers in Casco Bay. Photo by Heidi Holloway
Clammers in Casco Bay. Photo by Heidi Holloway

Post a photo of you and the Bay, then tag @FriendsofCascoBay on Facebook or Instagram.


10) Take a moment to connect with Casco Bay and the watershed. 

One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’  –Rachel Carson

Harpswell sunset. Photo by Stephen G. Hobson
Harpswell sunset. Photo by Stephen G. Hobson

 


 

Coffee with Casco Baykeeper Stormwater video

Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Stormwater

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley met with folks for an early morning conversation about one of Casco Bay’s largest sources of pollution: stormwater.

Recent weather events are a reminder that stormwater delivers some of the largest loads of pollution into Casco Bay. As stormwater flows over our roads, driveways, parking lots, and buildings, it collects a toxic slurry. Stormwater picks up pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roadways, pathogens from pet waste, and so much more. It carries this toxic mix downstream and ultimately into Casco Bay, causing a host of water quality problems.

Ivy and Sara’s conversation over coffee focuses on the increasing impact stormwater has on Casco Bay and what Friends of Casco Bay is doing to help address this issue (sneak peek: it’s a lot!). They also share upcoming opportunities for you to use your voice to advocate for clean water. More than 110 Friends attended the event along with at least one reporter from the Portland Press Herald.

If you missed the event or want to rewatch it, click here.

 

 

 

 

Our Top 10 Moments of 2023

As this year comes to an end, let’s reflect and celebrate the many ways that we worked together to protect the health of Casco Bay in 2023. Here are our top ten stories of the year:

1) We won a four-year moratorium on new sources of pollution into the lower Presumpscot River. The moratorium prevents the permitting of new industrial or wastewater discharges into the river near where it empties into Casco Bay. As the Presumpscot drains two-thirds of the Casco Bay watershed, this was a big win for our waters. Portland Press Herald wrote an in-depth story on this effort. Our lead advocate, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca won the Chief Poulin Award for her work on the moratorium. Ivy is shown here receiving the award from Friends of the Presumpscot River board member, Will Plumley.

2) More than 100 of our volunteer Water Reporters deepened their knowledge about Casco Bay. Volunteer Water Reporters attended a wide array of meet-ups and trainings all around the Bay this year. Water Reporters spent time with experts and heard the most up-to-date information about living shorelines, marsh restoration, invasive species, and stormwater pollution.

3) The “Sensor Squad” is moving science forward for Casco Bay and all of Maine’s coastal waters. Good decisions are made using good data. Led, in part, by our Staff Scientist Mike Doan, the Sensor Squad is working to ensure we are using the most accurate climate change and acidification techniques and protocols we can. This work is a part of Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative, a coalition of scientists and marine organizations from the University of New Hampshire to the border of Maine and Canada working to improve climate change data collection. Friends of Casco Bay helps to lead the Collaborative.

4) Passamaquoddy Language Keeper Dwayne Tomah was the featured speaker at our Members Annual Meeting in August. He shared the Passamaquoddy word for ceremony, “olotahkewakon,” noting that our gathering was a ceremony for our mother earth. Dwayne’s refrain throughout the evening was “We are all in this together.” Watch the inspiring talk here.

5) We maintained the strength of the permit that regulates stormwater pollution from large urban communities. You may remember that we celebrated this stricter permit as our top story of 2022. Stormwater is one of the largest sources of pollution into Casco Bay. Since the permit that regulates urban stormwater went into effect in July 2022, we have been working to ensure that it is properly implemented. In November, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection agreed with us that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection must ensure that towns covered by the permit implement low-impact development ordinances that include nine strategies designed to reduce stormwater pollution from new construction and redevelopment.

6) The City of South Portland launched 100 Resilient Yards, providing a grassroots way to bring best practices in yard care directly to neighborhoods around the city. Residents and businesses who took part in the program were given technical and physical assistance to build healthy soils that protect Casco Bay. Experts and volunteers helped residents build rain gardens, grow pollinator gardens, and more. We hope other towns around the Bay look at this program as a model!

7) We organized 15 fun coastal cleanups, including one with the surf rock band Easy Honey and one with the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. These cleanups gave community members a hands-on way to make a direct difference in the health of our waters by preventing waste and litter from being washed into the Bay.

8) We hired Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley! Over the past 10 months, Sara has become an integral part of our team. She’s helped deepen the knowledge of our Water Reporters, organized storm drain stenciling and coastal cleanups, and worked to expand our outreach efforts.

Pile of expired flares9) We helped organize an expired flare collection event in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Casco Bay and the Maine State Fire Marshall. The event was a great success, collecting 1,945 expired marine flares. Marine flares are pyrotechnic devices that boaters can use as a distress signal in emergencies. They burn at high temperatures, posing a serious fire hazard for long-term storage. Flares also contain toxic chemicals that can contaminate water and soil. Due to these hazardous qualities, it is illegal to throw flares in the trash, and ill-advised to store them at home.

Scenic Category Winner 1st Place, Student Category Winner, Best of Show, by Ava McKinley

10) We got in touch with our artistic side! Our online event, Water as Inspiration, brought together three regional artists to draw the connections between creativity, the environment, and climate change. We had dozens of submissions to “Frame the Bay,” our first-ever photo contest at our Members Annual Meeting. And we shared the stage with filmmaker Maximillian Armstrong at our Film Fest for Casco Bay.

As YOU know, Casco Bay is an inspiration! Thank you for helping us protect this amazing place and for being a Friend of Casco Bay.

Ever-Changing Casco Bay

Casco Bay is everchanging. The Bay changes with each tide, each day, and each season. And now, because of climate change, our coastal waters are transforming in different ways and faster than we thought possible.

At our EverChanging Casco Bay event on November 28, Staff Scientist Mike Doan dove into the data we use to track the health of the Bay. Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley shared observational data our volunteer Water Reporters posted over the course of the summer. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca discussed how these scientific and observational data are helping to move the needle for a cleaner, more protected Casco Bay.

 

If you missed the event or want to rewatch it, click here. If you don’t have time to watch the whole event, you can click here to hear Mike delve into the datahere for Sara talking about Water Reporters, and here to listen to Ivy describe the big picture.

More than 60 Friends attended the event along with members of the media. The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday TelegramMaine PublicBangor Daily News, and WGME covered the event and the issues we discussed.

31 Years of Seasonal Sampling

Today, on World Ocean Day, we are celebrating our 31st year of collecting seasonal water quality data on the health of Casco Bay!

It also happens to be Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Ivy!

Every year, from May to October, Ivy and Staff Scientist Mike Doan take to our Baykeeper boat and truck to assess water quality at more than 20 locations in Casco Bay. This seasonal sampling includes measuring temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, total nitrogen, water clarity, salinity, and chlorophyll fluorescence (an estimate of phytoplankton abundance). 

This year, for the first time, seasonal sampling will include testing for PFAS contamination in Casco Bay in collaboration with marine chemist Christoph Aeppli of Bigelow Laboratories for Ocean Sciences. PFAS are a class of widely-used, long-lasting chemicals and are an emerging pollutant of concern in Maine and around the world.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan collects water quality data from our Casco Baykeeper boat, R/V Joseph E. Payne. Mike uses a data sonde – a scientific device that measures water quality characteristics – to measure temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and other parameters.

“There is an important gap in PFAS testing in Maine,” says Ivy. “Current monitoring for contamination in sources like drinking water, fish tissues, and wastewater appropriately focus on public health. However, we don’t know how PFAS pollution is affecting water quality and the environment more broadly, especially in tidal waters like Casco Bay.” 

Our collaboration with Bigelow this summer will help develop a baseline understanding of PFAS levels in Casco Bay, and lay the groundwork for testing in the marine environment moving forward. 

At Friends of Casco Bay, we use all of our seasonal sampling data to help assess the health of the Bay. Mike compares this seasonal work to a regular health check-up. “Like a doctor checking your blood pressure, if we find an anomaly or problem, we can do more thorough investigations,” says Mike. 

Seasonal sampling also enables us to assess water quality over a large area by visiting more than 20 different sites in the Bay. That’s a key difference from our Continuous Monitoring Stations, which collect data at a much higher frequency from three locations in Casco Bay.

Friends of Casco Bay conducts seasonal water quality monitoring at more than 20 locations in Casco Bay, marked by the blue dots. We also gather year-round data at their three Continuous Monitoring Stations, marked by the yellow stars.

The seasonal data we collect this year will add to our historic 30-year dataset, which has become one of the most long-term marine water quality datasets in the United States. Our data show that Casco Bay is warming at the same alarming rate observed in the greater Gulf of Maine. They have helped to designate Casco Bay as a federal No Discharge Area and strengthen legal protections for large areas of the Bay.

We share our data with other scientists as well as with state and federal agencies that use them to meet regulatory mandates. 

“For over three decades, Friends of Casco Bay’s monitoring efforts have provided scientists and regulators a crucial part of the data used to understand the condition of Casco Bay,” says Curtis Bohlen, Director of the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, one of 28 federal National Estuary Programs. “The next thirty years will see unprecedented change in the Bay. Friends’ monitoring will undoubtedly be at the center of our efforts to witness and understand those changes.”

The Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative Provides a Model to Move Maine Forward

Studying changing coastal ecosystems comes with unique challenges – Friends of Casco Bay and our partners are taking them on.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan designed Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Stations, which serve as a model for measuring the influence of climate change on Maine’s coastal waters. Mike is working with other scientists to develop shared methods to collect and analyze marine climate change data, a key goal of Maine’s Climate Action Plan.

Friends of Casco Bay is facilitating the newly formed Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative, a coalition of scientists and marine organizations from the University of New Hampshire to the border of Maine and Canada working to improve climate change data collection. The Collaborative’s work acts as a model for establishing a coastwide climate change monitoring network, a key goal of Maine Won’t Wait, Maine’s Climate Action Plan.

“[The state of Maine is] participating in an ocean climate collaborative with academic and non-profit partners to coordinate and improve Maine-focused coastal and ocean acidification monitoring relevant to meeting the goals of Maine Won’t Wait,” reads the state’s two-year progress report on the Climate Action Plan. This is the Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative, which Friends of Casco Bay helps to lead!

In order to respond to the impacts of climate change, policymakers, resource harvesters, and other marine-dependent persons and industries must have reliable data. With these data in hand, they can make informed decisions to protect coastal resources, foster resilient habitat, and adapt fisheries management. 

This is easier said than done. Collecting data in coastal ecosystems comes with highly technical and unique challenges. In nearshore environments such as Casco Bay, the confluence of freshwater and saltwater, and the influences of human populations make studying water chemistry complex and difficult. 

“Climate change is challenging to measure, especially along the coast,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “The Collaborative brings together some of the best scientific minds in Maine who are working to better understand how nearshore conditions are changing in response to excess carbon in the water. Together we can best compare equipment, evaluate data, and understand the changes we are seeing.” 

One of the Collaborative’s current tasks is to compare and refine technology, quality assurance standards, and monitoring methods to better measure acidification in coastal waters. Staff Scientist Mike Doan is working closely on this effort with two other members of the Collaborative: Wells National Estuarine Reserve, and University of New Hampshire’s Ocean Process Analysis Laboratory. 

Friends of Casco Bay collects pH data (a measure of acidity) at our three Continuous Monitoring Stations. Click on the graph to view these and our other continuous monitoring data yourself!

The ability to effectively measure acidification is vital because oceans around the world are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Ocean acidification lowers the amount of minerals available for shell-building organisms like clams and oysters. It can also cause some harmful species of algae to bloom faster and produce more toxins. Our understanding of these impacts and others are constantly evolving because ocean acidification is a relatively new area of scientific research. 

Measuring acidification along the coast is uniquely challenging because most scientific monitoring equipment is designed specifically for freshwater or offshore ocean environments.

“Effective water science in the nearshore calls for creative solutions,” says Mike. “Fortunately, everyone in this group has experience doing just that, innovating to move coastal and climate science forward.”

This technology and monitoring methods work is supported by a $200,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation. What Mike and the team learn will be shared with the rest of the Collaborative, enabling comparable marine climate data to be gathered throughout the Gulf of Maine.

Maine and ocean acidification: how did we get here?

Maine was the second state in the nation to recognize that ocean acidification poses a serious and little-understood threat to shellfisheries and coastal ecosystems. Since 2014, the state and marine organizations have convened multiple initiatives to better understand and address ocean acidification. This work ultimately resulted in a goal outlined in Maine’s Climate Action Plan to create a coastwide network of scientists to collect climate and ocean acidification data in the Gulf of Maine. These data would be accessible to inform environmental policy and fisheries management. 

The Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative provides a model for how this network can work. The Collaborative includes Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Bowdoin College, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Downeast Institute, Friends of Casco Bay, Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, Island Institute, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Marine Resources, the University of New Hampshire, and Wells Reserve. The Maine Climate Council Coordinator also participates.

Mike’s Field Notes: Warm Winter Waters in Casco Bay

In this 4 minute video, Staff Scientist Mike Doan breaks down the data from our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth that show this past winter was unusually warm for Casco Bay. In addition to watching Mike’s video, you can read about these data and the many impacts of warming waters (such as more green crabs and less eelgrass), here.

P.S. You can try listening to the Bay yourself by checking out data from our Continuous Monitoring Stations.