Join Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley for an early morning conversation about the work Friends of Casco Bay has been doing in partnership with Bigelow Laboratory on detecting per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Casco Bay.
On Thursday, March 21, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. grab a cup of coffee and hop online to hear about Friends of Casco Bay’s ongoing data collection of PFAS in Casco Bay. Whether you’re cozy on your couch, doing your morning routine, or listening on your phone while you walk the dog, join us for this informative event.
PFAS are chemicals that are used in a wide variety of products from clothing to firefighting foam. They break down slowly so they build up in our environment and are detrimental to human health. Last year, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Friends of Casco Bay partnered as we conducted the first study of PFAS in the waters of Casco Bay. Ivy will share an overview of PFAS monitoring at Friends of Casco Bay’s seasonal sites in 2023. Sara and Ivy will then talk about our more extensive plans to monitor the Bay and lower watershed for PFAS in 2024. All of this work is in collaboration with Bigelow Laboratory scientists, who developed the protocols and are analyzing the samples. We are excited to share our plans with you and how the data will help further our understanding of the health of our waters.
Sign up here! You must register to attend. Ivy and Sara look forward to sharing their morning with you.
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.
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.
9) 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.
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 large nuisance algal blooms?
This summer and fall, Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteer Water Reporters found out the answers to these questions and more as we hosted a wide array of meet-ups and trainings all around the Bay. More than 100 volunteers attended these special events. Water Reporters spent time with experts and heard the most up- to-date information about living shorelines, marsh restoration, invasive species, and stormwater pollution.
“I am very grateful to Friends of Casco Bay for the wonderful learning opportunities they provide to me as a Water Reporter,” says volunteer Catherine Tarpy. “The events are free and give us a top-quality education about the current status and future of Casco Bay. One more thing, they’re so much fun!”
Volunteer Water Reporters take photos and observations of pollution, climate change, and ecological problems that are impacting Casco Bay. Volunteers also share observations of good news, such as rare wildlife sightings. Our staff receives notices of the posts, including latitude and longitude. Friends of Casco Bay staff then follow up with every post, which sometimes involves visiting the site of the post to further investigate.
“Our volunteer Water Reporters are on the front lines of climate change,” shared Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley. “They are tracking changes they are seeing and helping us be the eyes of the Bay. We are working to give these volunteers the opportunity to learn more about the biggest threats to our coastal waters and to deepen their knowledge of the Bay.”
Sara organized six Water Reporter training events from June through September. She also happens to be our newest staff member.
“We are excited to have Sara aboard,” said Executive Director Will Everitt. “We created her position to double-down on the idea that it takes a community to take care of the health of Casco Bay. Sara has jumped into the work with both feet!”
Although cold weather is beginning, our Water Reporter events will continue as our volunteers post their observations year-round. Friends of Casco Bay will host online events this winter.
Thank you to Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust, L.L.Bean, Allagash Brewing Company, Ferris Olson Family Foundation for Ocean Stewardship, WEX, and our members for their support of our Water Reporter program.
Volunteer Water Reporters joined Friends of Casco Bay at six meetup and training events so far this year, including a season kickoff event, a salt marsh training, an invasive species training,a mindful observation event, and a stormwater training. Invasive training photo by Perry Flowers.
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–ChangingCasco 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.
You are invited to join us on Saturday, September 9th, at 10 a.m for a Coastal Clean up in Harpswell.
Friends of Casco Bay has joined up with Harpswell Heritage Land Trust for this special cleanup. By taking part you’ll join hundreds of volunteers around the state as part of the 35th Maine Coastal Cleanup, hosted by Maine Coastal Program in the month of September.
What: Harpswell Coastal Cleanup
Where: Meet at Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, 153 Harpswell Neck Rd, Harpswell
When: Saturday, September 9, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
RSVP: Sign up by filling out the form below
What to expect:
We will meet at Harpswell Heritage Land Trust where Friends of Casco Bay and Harpswell Heritage Land Trust staff will give an introduction and an orientation. Then you will be assigned a location in Harpswell to clean up! Most sites will be Harpswell Heritage Land Trust land. You will be provided with all of the supplies you need as well as a map. After a couple of hours, we will meet back at Harpswell Heritage Trust where you can leave your trash.
This is an excellent way to meet other community members and explore the beautiful peninsulas of Harpswell.
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.
“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.
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.”
Studying changing coastal ecosystems comes with unique challenges – Friends of Casco Bay and our partners are taking them on.
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.
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.
166 volunteers collected water samples from Portland Harbor to help measure and address nitrogen pollution. Here is what we found.
It was a sweltering summer morning on August 7, 2022 when 166 volunteers descended on Portland Harbor to collect water samples for nitrogen analysis.
After sending the 178 samples collected that day to the University of Maine Darling Marine Center Laboratory for analysis, the results are in.
The Nab data show nitrogen concentrations in Portland Harbor are generally highest near the shore. Lower concentrations of nitrogen are often observed in samples collected by boat from the mouth of the harbor and the middle of the harbor channel. These data suggest that land-based sources of excess nitrogen – a stormwater outfall, for example – enter the harbor at the shoreline and diffuse as water circulates with the tides.
“Seeing the data all together is remarkable,” says Staff Scientist Mike Doan. “Having so many samples collected at once gives us a robust image of nitrogen conditions in the harbor. Our incredible volunteers made this happen.” Mike adds that it is important to keep in mind that these data represent a snapshot of nitrogen conditions in the Bay’s dynamic ecosystem.
Mike compared data collected this summer to the data collected at our first Nab in 2016. The 2016 data also show nitrogen concentrations are highest near the shore. However, a key difference between the two Nabs was the weather.
The 2016 Nab coincided with a large storm. In fact, it was still raining when water samples were collected. Conversely, the 2022 Nab happened on a hot day during a summer drought.
“If land-based sources of nitrogen are affecting the harbor, we would expect nitrogen levels near the shore to be higher after a rainstorm than during a drought, and that is generally what we saw,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “The next step is to use these data to see if there are specific sources of nitrogen around the harbor that can be addressed and to help set limits in Clean Water Act permits that decrease nitrogen discharges to healthy amounts.”
Excess nitrogen can come from many sources. Sometimes the source is easy to identify because it comes from a specific spot, like a wastewater treatment plant, stormwater outfall, or combined sewer overflow discharge. Other sources can be more difficult to identify because they are picked up by stormwater that sheets off the land when it rains. These sources can include fertilizers, car exhaust, pet waste, and more.
Data from the Nab are being used to help the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) develop nitrogen criteria for Casco Bay. These criteria will describe the levels of nitrogen that water bodies can safely absorb. They will also influence nitrogen discharge limits in Clean Water Act permits. Angela Brewer, who leads the marine unit of the Bureau of Water Quality at DEP, is excited to have these data.
“The Nab data provide a unique perspective that is essential to understanding the nitrogen dynamics in Portland area surface waters,” says Angela. “This perspective is only possible with Friends of Casco Bay’s extensive and dedicated volunteer network.”
Thank you to the volunteers who collected water samples with us at Nabbing Nitrogen, and to Allagash Brewing Company and our members for funding for this community science event. You made this work possible.
Why Does Nitrogen Matter?
Nitrogen is naturally found in marine waters. A healthy amount of nitrogen fertilizes algal blooms that form the base of the food chain in Casco Bay. But excess nitrogen from human sources such as wastewater, fertilizers, stormwater, and air pollution can cause excessive algal growth that harms the health of the marine environment. Some of the impacts of nitrogen pollution include degrading eelgrass beds (which are critical fish nursery habitat), exacerbating coastal acidification, lowering oxygen levels, and shutting down shellfisheries.
More than half of the critical and federally protected seagrass meadows in Casco Bay disappeared between 2018-2022.
Eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay have declined in size by 54 percent over the past four years, a loss described as “staggering” in a new report from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This decline of the federally protected marine habitat places eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay at their smallest size since monitoring efforts began in 1993. Warmer water temperatures in Casco Bay are thought to be a primary driver.
“We’ve worried over the last few summers about what impact really warm water temperatures might have on this fragile, beautiful, and important plant,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “Eelgrass forms one of the most productive habitats in the marine environment, stores carbon, and buffers against erosion from intense storms. This is a devastating loss and we are talking with other experts to determine what we might do to save eelgrass.”
Eelgrass coverage in Casco Bay declined by 54.5 percent between 2018-2022, in addition to overall declines in the density of remaining eelgrass meadows, according to the DEP report. Much of the hardest hit eelgrass habitat in Casco Bay is in Yarmouth, Freeport, Brunswick, and Harpswell, the same areas that saw significant eelgrass loss in 2011-2012.
Eelgrass is a ribbon-like seagrass that grows in submerged waters in Casco Bay and temperate marine zones around the world. Eelgrass meadows create a habitat that is one of the most valuable and productive in the marine environment.
Eelgrass meadows form the base of a marine food web, supporting organisms like invertebrates, fish, and waterfowl (including economically important fish and shellfish). Eelgrass meadows help maintain water quality by absorbing nutrients and stabilizing sediments, and reduce erosion by absorbing the force of wave energy. Eelgrass meadows are also exceptionally good at absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.
Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine are some of the fastest-warming water bodies on the planet. Warmer water temperatures and the cascade of changes they can cause are thought to be major drivers of eelgrass loss. Warmer waters are correlated with growth in green crab populations, which are known to clip and uproot eelgrass as they search for food. Warmer water temperatures can also encourage algal blooms, which prevent light from reaching the seafloor.
The DEP report suggests light availability was a major factor contributing to the observed eelgrass loss in 2022.
Local factors such as nitrogen pollution from stormwater runoff and wastewater treatment effluents can also cause eelgrass loss. Friends of Casco Bay continues to advocate for policies and practices that reduce nitrogen pollution, and is working with DEP to develop nitrogen criteria for Maine waters.