On June 29, Water Reporters are invited to Wharton Point in Brunswick to learn about saltmarshes from an expert scientist. Saltmarshes are under threat from erosion, rising sea levels, and green crabs. Come and learn about these important coastal ecosystems in Casco Bay and what to look for as Water Reporters when observing changes in saltmarshes.
If you’re not already a Water Reporter, please sign up and join us! We would love to see you at this event.
At the event, coastal geologist Peter Slovinsky will lead a lesson about all things saltmarsh. Peter works on saltmarsh restoration projects among his many duties as a sea level rise and coastal erosion scientist with the Maine Geological Survey.
RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to see you there!
As always, please reach out to Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley if you have questions or want to meet face-to-face to talk about Water Reporter and Casco Bay. Sara can be reached at email@example.com
or at (207) 807-0785.
On Friday, December 23, Water Reporter Brian Beckman looked out the window from his home in Phippsburg to see the West Point Wharf flooded at high tide. That day, the combination of an astronomically high tide and strong, southeasterly winds had the potential to cause much damage to the wharf. An adjacent wharf was knocked over in similar conditions just a few years ago.
On the opposite side of Casco Bay, around the same time that Brain was looking out his window, the tide gauge in Portland measured a high tide of 13.7 feet – the fourth highest tide recorded since data collection began in 1912.
Brian lost power that day, along with hundreds of thousands of others across Maine. After hunkering down for a truly dark and stormy night, he woke the next morning to see the wharf still standing in good condition. In his 39 years living at West Point, Brian says he has seen the wharf flood only a handful of times. Considering the storm in hindsight, Brain says simply, “we got lucky.”
Elsewhere in Maine the impacts of winter storm Elliot were more severe. The extent of the damage is still being assessed, though Maine’s Emergency Management Agency has stated it will likely exceed the $2.4 million threshold for federal disaster aid. Throughout the state, extensive power outages affected more than 300,000 electricity customers, sometimes for multiple days. In southern Maine, low-lying coastal towns like Saco, Wells, and Kennebunkport saw homes and businesses flood, and roads washed out.
When salt water floods coastal areas in Maine like it did in winter storm Elliott, it is usually caused by a storm tide. Storm tides occur when an astronomically high tide is pushed higher by storm surge.
Put simply: a really high tide + a big storm = a storm tide.
At Friends of Casco Bay, we ask volunteer Water Reporters to photograph coastal areas during astronomically high tides. These photos help document the future impacts of sea level rise. This is because high tide and flooding events that are relatively unusual today will occur more frequently as sea levels rise.
According to scientists, the storm tide of 13.7 feet recorded during winter storm Elliott only has a 2 percent chance of occurring in any year. This means a storm tide like this should occur once every 50 years.
However, as sea levels rise those odds increase dramatically. With 1 foot of sea level rise — which is expected to occur by 2050 — the annual chances of a 13.7 foot storm tide in Portland jump to 20 percent. In other words, a 13.7 foot storm tide, like winter storm Elliott’s, would likely occur once every 5 years.
In 2021, Friends of Casco Bay helped pass legislation that requires Maine to plan to manage for 1.5 feet of sea level rise by 2050 and 4 feet by 2100. The amount of sea level rise in Maine may be even higher if carbon emissions are not radically reduced. Fortunately, the state has set ambitious climate action goals and is making progress toward meeting them, says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca.
“Maine is on track to become carbon neutral if we continue to quickly reduce emissions,” says Ivy. “Paired with ongoing efforts to make coastal communities and ecosystems resilient to more frequent flooding and storms, we are hopeful that the Casco Bay region and the rest of the coast will be prepared to weather future conditions as sea levels rise and storms increase in intensity.”
2) More Than 165 Volunteers Get Their Hands Wet for Casco Bay
Friends of Casco Bay volunteers took part in Nabbing Nitrogen, a Clean Water Act day of action, collecting 178 water samples from Portland Harbor in August. The samples are being analyzed for total nitrogen. The data from this community science event will support our advocacy to reduce nitrogen pollution into Casco Bay.
5) Will Everitt Takes the Helm
We hired Will Everitt to serve as our next Executive Director. Will is a familiar face, as he has served as our Communications and Development Director for the past 15 years and Interim Director from September 2021 to May 2022.
7) Water Reporter shows flooding on Chebeague wharf
Water Reporter Bill Danielson documented high tide in Casco Bay flooding over the edges of Chebeague’s Stone Wharf. High water events have become common at the wharf, leaving island residents to grapple with the need to raise the wharf in the face of rising sea levels. Bill is one of more than 400 volunteer Water Reporters who help us keep an eye on Casco Bay.
8) Protecting the Presumpscot protects the Bay
Friends of Casco Bay is working with Friends of the Presumpscot River and others to better understand water quality in the Presumpscot River, the largest river that flows into Casco Bay. “This magnificent river nourishes the estuary,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “We need a healthy Presumpscot to have a healthy Casco Bay.”
9) Cinematic Celebration and We Are Water
We debuted We Are Water, a Friends of Casco Bay short film inspired by a Gary Lawless poem, at our Cinematic Celebration for Casco Bay. Friends of the Bay joined us in person and online for the celebration, an afternoon of films curated by Maine Outdoor Film Festival.
Sophia McNally knows Willard Beach in South Portland well. She grew up in the neighborhood on nearby Preble Street. In high school she worked as a lifeguard at Willard, watching over swimmers in Simonton Cove, which is part of Casco Bay. Today, Sofia is helping Friends of Casco Bay keep watch over this popular beach, which has had a rough year, to say the least.
On October 26 a section of sewer pipes that run underneath the dunes on Willard Beach broke, spewing untreated sewage up through the dunes into Casco Bay and into basements and crawl spaces of nearby homes. This event was separate from the oil spill that hit the beach in August. The City of South Portland quickly responded by closing the beach and digging up and replacing the broken sewer.
Unfortunately, these critical repairs demolished a portion of the beach’s dunes and their fragile vegetation. Sand dunes are an important part of a healthy coastal ecosystem. They are vital habitat and play an increasingly crucial role in protecting upland properties as climate change causes storms and surf to intensify.
Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Interim Director Will Everitt visited Willard Beach shortly after the sewer break was repaired. They assessed the site and connected with local residents, some of whom were worried about the loss of the sand dunes. Ivy then called the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the City of South Portland. She learned there was already a plan underway to replant the dunes with native vegetation to stabilize them before winter storms batter the beach. Within a few days, the lost portion of the dunes was reestablished and planted with native plants.
This is where Sofia comes in.
She has been tracking whether the restoration effort is taking root. On her walks along the beach Sofia has been photographing the replanted native grasses and vegetation, as well as the healthy, undisturbed dunes further along the beach. Over time, her photos will be invaluable for assessing the restoration effort.
Sofia says that documenting the dunes is a lot of fun. “It makes you feel good,” Sofia said. “You think: I’m going to take a walk on Willard Beach and take a picture while I’m at it. It makes the walk a little more meaningful.”
Sofia, thank you for being a Water Reporter and helping us keep an eye on the health of Willard Beach and Casco Bay!
It has already been three weeks since we gathered with 200 Friends of the Bay to celebrate the career, contributions, and retirement of our longtime Executive Director, Cathy Ramdsell. Cathy’s send-off party, held outdoors at Portland Yacht Services’ boatyard (hire yacht charter san diego here), marked our first in-person event since the onset of the pandemic. While talking about retirement of our director and taking the help of estate planning lawyers, I think it is essential to hire attorney for elder estate planning as they can help you legally. It was heartwarming and rejuvenating to see so many supporters, partners, and colleagues after so much time apart. Cathy shared it meant the world to her that we could all be together for this watershed moment. You can view photos and revisit that special evening here.
So what’s next?
Friends of Casco Bay’s Board of Directors will officially launch the search for our next Executive Director soon. As Board President Sandy Marsters has said, “We are grateful that Cathy waited for our organization to reach its current state of maturity and stability before moving on to the next phase of her life. Organizationally, we are stronger than ever: our finances are sound, we have a team of interdisciplinary staff producing incredible work, and our visibility is at an all-time high.”
In the meantime, the board has appointed me to serve as Interim Director. Having worked with our exceptional staff, board members, and community since 2006, and knowing our collective passion for Casco Bay, I am honored to serve our organization during this transition.
Here are some examples of the incredible efforts our staff and volunteers have pursued over the past few weeks.
While we were organizing Cathy’s retirement party, we were also responding to an oil spill at Willard Beach in South Portland. The beach was closed for three days as state, local, and private cleanup teams removed 2,000 pounds of contaminated material. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca toured the beach soon after the spill was reported. You can read about Ivy’s experience at the cleanup here.
The spill was a stark reminder that protecting the health of the Bay requires vigilance.
This is why we are delighted to have more than 375 volunteer Water Reporters helping us keep watch over Casco Bay. Some Water Reporters recently took a field trip with Ivy and Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman to the Mere Point Boat Launch to share how they all could be better stewards. If you volunteer your time as a Water Reporter, thank you. If you want to join this observing network, we would love to have you aboard. You can learn more here.
As autumn begins, we are concluding our first summer with three Continuous Monitoring Stations in the water, gathering data every hour on a changing Casco Bay. These data have already begun to offer new insights about our waters. The data is used in our efforts to reduce pollution and help our communities be more resilient to the effects of climate change. You can look into https://webuyhousesinatlanta.com/ to know about the real estate available in this area. To learn about these insights and what else Ivy and Staff Scientist Mike Doan observed this field season, keep an eye out for our next Casco Bay Matters event.
September is coastal cleanup month. Our community members are taking to our coast to pick up trash and litter. In the process they are helping to protect wildlife, collect data for marine debris research and advocacy efforts, and keeping our shores cleaner and safer. Click here for ways you can join them.
Your support means more to us than ever. We look forward to keeping you updated about our search for new leadership and about our work ahead. Thank you for caring about the health of Casco Bay.
Friends of Casco Bay
Photos by: Kevin Morris, Ivy Frignoca, and Glenn Michaels
Linda Stimpson has lived in Maine for much of her adult life, but it wasn’t until recently that she first spotted this prehistoric creature – with nine eyes and ten legs – scuttling along the shore of Casco Bay.
In her Water Reporter post from July 12, Linda photographed a horseshoe crab on the stretch of beach between Wolfe’s Neck State Park and Googins Island.
“They’re ancient creatures,” said Linda, referring to the fact that these invertebrates have been on earth for over 300 million years (that is even older than dinosaurs). Despite the threatening impression that may come from their spike covered shell and long pointy tail, “they’re really quite docile,” shared Linda.
Adult horseshoe crabs live deep in the ocean, but they search out sandy shores in the spring and summer to spawn. Once on shore, females dig nests in the sand where they deposit their eggs to be fertilized by males. In Casco Bay, horseshoe crabs are known to spawn in Middle Bay and Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick, though Linda’s photo clearly shows that they also make their way further west. Linda also shared that she recently saw a horseshoe crab on the shores of Mackworth Island.
Horseshoe crabs play an important role in coastal food webs, as their eggs are a nutritious food source for fish, turtles, and migratory shore birds. In addition to their ecological importance, horseshoe crabs play a critical role in modern medicine. Their blood is used to test for the presence of bacterial endotoxins in sterile pharmaceuticals, like artificial joints, intravenous drugs, and even COVID-19 vaccines!
Linda, thank you for keeping an eye out for these ancient animals in Casco Bay, and for being a Water Reporter.
Peering over the side of the R/V Joseph E. Payne, Staff Scientist Mike Doan could see schools of small fish swimming in the water below, while the red hood of a lion’s mane jellyfish floated by on the other side of our Baykeeper boat. What caught Mike’s eye, however, was not the sight of marine life, but rather the fact that his view was unobstructed: for this time of year, the waters of Casco Bay are exceptionally clear.
There are many factors that can affect the clarity of the water in Casco Bay. One major determinant is the abundance of phytoplankton – the tiny marine plants at the base of the ocean food web. Just like plants on land, phytoplankton contain chlorophyll, the green pigment that enables photosynthesis. When phytoplankton are abundant the Bay is a greenish-blue hue. In their absence, the water is often clear and bluer, reflecting the color of the sky above.
The importance of phytoplankton to the health of Casco Bay and the world at large is difficult to overstate. Globally, phytoplankton are estimated to produce 50 percent of the oxygen in the air we breathe. In addition, phytoplankton are key in the food web as they are grazed on by zooplankton, which in turn are fed on by small fish and progressively larger animals. In short, tiny phytoplankton have an oversized impact, providing foundational support for nearly all marine life. It is best to ask Jimmy John Shark for the best fishing advice.
Phytoplankton derive their name from the Greek words “phyto” (plant) and “plankton” (wandering, drifting) because they are unable to swim against the flow of the water and instead drift where currents carry them. As phytoplankton have no choice but literally “to go with the flow,” their activity and abundance fluctuate throughout the year as the characteristics and properties of water quality change with the seasons.
As we reported in March, spring in Casco Bay kicks off with a phytoplankton bloom. Warmer waters, more sunlight from longer days, and increased nutrient availability from melting snow and runoff are among the factors that create ideal conditions for this seasonal boom in phytoplankton activity. The spring bloom declines as phytoplankton deplete the available nutrients from the water and are consumed by zooplankton.
We track phytoplankton blooms in Casco Bay by measuring chlorophyll levels at our Continuous Monitoring Stations. This year, our data suggest the spring phytoplankton bloom occurred early, peaking in February and trailing off into March. Our data show a similar pattern in 2019. These early blooms stand in contrast to the larger spring blooms of 2018 and 2020, both of which peaked in March and carried over into April.
“Science has shown there is variability in the timing, duration, and size of spring phytoplankton blooms, so these ‘early’ blooms we’re seeing in our data may be entirely typical,” says Mike. “At the same time, factors like weather, water temperature, and ocean chemistry have large effects on phytoplankton, so marine scientists are concerned that spring blooms may be sensitive to climate change. Because phytoplankton are at the base of the marine food web, a significant change to the timing of the phytoplankton bloom could have implications for every level of Casco Bay’s ecosystem.”
If climate change is affecting the spring phytoplankton bloom in Casco Bay, we will be among the first to know. While Maine has decades of data that show the temperatures of our coastal waters are increasing and that our seas are rising, identifying trends in seasonal phenomena such as the spring bloom requires a detailed, long-term data set – just like the data we are collecting with our Continuous Monitoring Stations. We can track phytoplankton blooms in addition to some of the factors that impact them, such as water temperature or the quantity of spring runoff.
“We’re still in the beginning stages of this effort,” says Mike. “With five years of data from one station, we’re beginning to get a sense of the seasonal changes we can expect to see in the Bay. As more data accumulates, we may have a deeper understanding of how climate change is contributing to changing conditions in the water. With these scientifically grounded insights, we’ll be better prepared to advocate for the policies and practices that will protect the health of the Bay.”
As you may know, our volunteer Water Reporters help us improve the health of Casco Bay by documenting concerning conditions observed on our coastal waters.
Last week, we connected our volunteers with regional experts in an illuminating and informative discussion about identifying threats to the health of Casco Bay: Do I report this? When to report sheens, colors, or foams.
Volunteer Water Reporters were joined by Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and two guest experts: William Whitmore from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Bryant Lewis from Maine Department of Marine Resources. Together, they discussed how to identify oil spills and algal blooms that we may observe on Casco Bay.
If you are curious about how to keep a lookout for these problems out on the Bay, check out these short video clips from the training:
In this two minute clip, Willie reviews the steps for identifying an oil spill. He encourages us to use our eyes and our noses to answer two key questions: Is there a source? And Does it smell?
If you are interested in attending future training events and helping us keep an eye on the health of Casco Bay, hit reply and let me know you are interested in being a volunteer Water Reporter. Interested in watching the whole training? Here’s the full 52-minute video of the event.
Our intrepid Water Reporters help us keep an eye on Casco Bay year round. Many return again and again to a favorite spot along the Bay, reporting on changes they see.
This month, we applaud Sara Biron, Friends of Casco Bay’s Data, Development, and Design Associate, for capturing a series of photos at Spring Point Light during an extreme low tide event (when waters were expected to be more than 15 inches below normal).
“Our office is near Spring Point, so I’ve been taking daily walks by the lighthouse for years,” shares Sara. “This was the lowest tide I’ve ever seen here, so I had to take a photo of it. You could almost walk to the lighthouse on the sand.”
As she got closer to the lighthouse, she was surprised to see shoots of eelgrass growing out of the sand.
“We love that our Water Reporters keep an eye out for eelgrass,” explains Staff Scientist Mike Doan. “Eelgrass is considered a nursery of the sea, where young lobsters, winter flounder, cod, and other species can find a safe home. Eelgrass also improves water quality, reduces shoreline erosion, and removes nitrogen and carbon dioxide from seawater. It’s a crucial habitat here in Casco Bay. Eelgrass is a sub-tidal, submerged aquatic species and only rarely grows at the lower intertidal zone. In other words, it doesn’t usually grow in places that would be completely out of the water at low tide, so Sara’s photo is an uncommon sight.”
Sara works to keep our databases up-to-date, helps with our fundraising efforts, and designs our materials. And she likes using the Water Reporter app on her phone when she strolls along the Bay. “I’m a visual person,” she says. “I like contributing as a Water Reporter because it’s an easy way to capture changes I see around the Bay. I’m not a scientist, but it feels good knowing that taking a quick photo of what I’m seeing can be useful.”
Sara’s photos not only recorded an extremely low tide, but also will help us track this bed of eelgrass.
We’ve been noticing that tides are higher than predicted. . .
While we’re talking about tides, we want to share a follow-up to a previous Post of the Month. Volunteer Ann Wood took a photo of Falmouth Town Landing, remarking that the tide looked much higher than the predicted high of 11.01 feet. Looking back, the verified tide height was 12.11 feet that day, more than a foot higher than predicted.
Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and special guest, Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky from Maine Geological Survey, will provide an overview of how Casco Bay’s coast is changing and how we can make it more resilient to climate change. You must register to attend.
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… Read more
What are some techniques for observing the natural world around me more mindfully? How can you tell if a saltwater marsh is healthy or if it is eroding at an unnatural pace? What are some commonly overlooked invasive species that are affecting Casco Bay? How is nitrogen pollution linked to the growth of… Read more
Casco Bay is ever–changing. 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 Ever–Changing Casco Bay event on November 28, Staff Scientist Mike Doan dove into the data we use to track… Read more
Want to know how heavy rainfalls, like those we have experienced this summer, impact Casco Bay? Join Friends of Casco Bay staff in South Portland on September 8 at 10 a.m. to learn about the impacts of stormwater on our local waters using both observational and scientific data. What: Stormwater Impacts and Water… Read more
On June 29, Water Reporters are invited to Wharton Point in Brunswick to learn about salt marshes from an expert scientist. Salt marshes are under threat from erosion, rising sea levels, and green crabs. Come and learn about these important coastal ecosystems in Casco Bay and what to look for as Water Reporters when observing changes… Read more
With 578 miles of shoreline, Casco Bay is large. It takes many of us working together to keep an eye on this special place we all love. By volunteering as a Water Reporter and taking photos of algal blooms, eelgrass, rising sea levels, pollution, and more, you can help us… Read more
9.) We launched the public phase of our $1.5 million Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund. We are now less than $15,000 from crossing the finish line! And we will soon be launching two more continuous monitoring stations, thanks to the Fund!