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We’re still monitoring the health of Casco Bay, and you can too

It is lonely out on the pier where Staff Scientist Mike Doan is collecting data on the health of Casco Bay — and he is playing it safe, taking his own selfie as seen here.

We are continuing to monitor the health of Casco Bay. Our Continuous Monitoring Station is still collecting data every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Mike services the station every two weeks, making sure the equipment is clean and well-calibrated.

Mike has seen some unusual readings over the past few months — a large phytoplankton bloom in December, a smaller one in February, and warmer-than-usual water temperatures in January and February. He is anxious to compare data from March.

“This has been an unusual winter, and I’m curious to see how conditions change as we move into spring,” Mike reflects.

You can take a look at the data on our website. We also encourage you to get out along the Bay — while maintaining social distancing — and record your own observations on your smartphone. You can find out how on our Water Reporter page.

The Bay Is Blooming

What are the signs of spring for you? Chirping chickadees? Street sweeping? Longer daylight? Changing the clocks? (March 8th is the start of Daylight Savings Time!)

The lengthening daylight jumpstarts the growth of phytoplankton, the single-celled plants that are the foundation of the ocean food web. Like plants on land, they respond to increasing sunlight by bursting into bloom.

The graph of chlorophyll fluorescence shows the increase and decrease in phytoplankton abundance in Casco Bay throughout the year at our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth.

How can we know what is happening in the ocean? Our Continuous Monitoring Station indicates the abundance of phytoplankton in Casco Bay by measuring chlorophyll fluorescence. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that traps the energy of the sun for photosynthesis.

Our long-term monitoring station, anchored just above the sea floor off Cousins Island in Yarmouth, collects measurements of temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, and chlorophyll fluorescence, every hour, year-round.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan observes, “Our Continuous Monitoring Station is going into its fifth year of data collection. During the first two springs [2017 and 2018], the chlorophyll levels peaked, as expected, around March, which would be consistent with seasonal phytoplankton bloom cycles. Last year, we experienced a winter bloom that peaked in January, much earlier than we would have expected. So far this winter we have experienced a similar situation, with a moderate bloom over the winter. We are very interested in seeing what the February and March data tell us.”

We update our website each month, so come back often to see if these early blooms continue to occur in Casco Bay, yet another signal that things may be changing in the Bay.

A warm winter, even in Casco Bay

If you are thinking this past January was unusually warm, you would not be wrong. January 2020 was Earth’s warmest January in 141 years of temperature records, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. According to WCSH6 meteorologist Keith Carson, Portland’s average temperature from December 1, 2019, to February 12, 2020, was 30.2 degrees Fahrenheit. So far, 2020 ranks as the 3rd warmest winter on record in Portland and the 6th warmest in Bangor.

Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth confirms that water temperatures in Casco Bay were also especially warm. Our station has been amassing hourly data on the health of the Bay for nearly four years. This graph compares water temperatures from 2016 to date. Staff Scientist Mike Doan says “It is too soon to claim a trend, but the data are concerning. January 2020 water temperatures were on average the warmest we have seen at the station.”

We are celebrating our 30th—the “pearl anniversary”

  • Pearls are gemstones that mark a 30th anniversary. Pearls are symbolic of wisdom gained through experience. We have learned a lot in 30 years!
  • A pearl is created by an oyster in response to an irritant. A pearl can form over time as an oyster secretes layer upon layer of aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate, around a particle of sand. Friends of Casco Bay was created in 1989 in response to a report that claimed Casco Bay was polluted. We continue to respond to many issues that aggravate the health of the Bay.
  • Oysters thrive in estuaries like Casco Bay. Sea farmers in Casco Bay raise the American and European species of oysters. These sea creatures can tolerate a broad range of temperatures and salinities. Our data document a wide range of water quality conditions around our estuary, where fresh water and salt water meet.
  • Oysters help clean the ocean. One oyster can pump up to 50 gallons of water through its body each day, filtering pollutants from the sea water. Our pumpout boat can remove 650 gallons (or more) of raw sewage from marine toilets in a day.
  • Oysters are vulnerable to ocean acidification. Like other creatures whose shells are made of aragonite, oysters, mussels, and clams have a harder time building and maintaining their shells in acidic conditions. We use data from our Continuous Monitoring Station to calculate the amount of aragonite in seawater (“omega aragonite”) to determine if there is enough raw material for an oyster to build its shell—or make a pearl.
  • Oysters remove nitrogen from the water. An oyster uses nitrogen from seawater for its growth. Excess nitrogen is deposited in the mud as pseudofeces (fake poop), taking that nitrogen out of circulation. Friends of Casco Bay works to reduce excess nitrogen in coastal waters from fertilizers, polluted stormwater, and sewage outfalls.
  • Friends of Casco Bay is the thread connecting the string of pearls. Our community of staff, board, volunteers, supporters, and concerned citizens are bound together by the common goal of improving and protecting the environmental health of Casco Bay.

Save the date for our 30th Anniversary Event

As we look ahead in 2020, we invite you to our 30th anniversary celebration on April 29, 2020, at Ocean Gateway in Portland. Mark your calendar and save the date! More details to come here: 30th Anniversary Event.

Three decades of success – the impact of Friends of Casco Bay

Friends of Casco Bay has a long history of success. Since our founding in 1989, our work-with, science-based approach has moved the needle toward a healthier, more protected Bay.

  • We championed a halt to cruise ship pollution and won a No Discharge Area designation for Casco Bay, the first in Maine.
  • We have secured better long-term protection through Clean Water Act classification upgrades for three areas of Casco Bay, ensuring stricter, permanent pollution restrictions.
  • Our water quality data are sent to Congress every two years; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection uses our data in its Clean Water Act biennial reporting to Congress and would not be in compliance without it.
  • We advocated for Portland to get back on track—and we continue to push to keep efforts on track— to fulfill its court-ordered agreement to clean up and eliminate dozens of combined sewer overflows, reducing the amount of raw sewage flowing into the Bay.
  • We are leading the call to reduce nitrogen discharges into our coastal waters. We forged an agreement with Portland Water District, which set a goal of reducing nitrogen coming out of the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility. During the summer of 2018, they reduced nitrogen levels by 70%, on average.
  • Our data and advocacy inspired South Portland and Portland to pass the strictest ordinances in the state to reduce pollution from pesticides. Harpswell also passed a pesticide ordinance with our input, and other communities are considering similar restrictions.
  • We convinced the legislature to form an Ocean Acidification Commission to investigate and make policy recommendations to address our acidifying waters.
  • We helped form the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) to coordinate the work of researchers, government officials, and advocates to reduce acidification and address climate change. Our Casco Baykeeper currently serves as the coordinator of MOCA.
  • We successfully advocated for Portland to pass an ordinance designed to discourage single-use bags in favor of reusable ones. The bag ordinance, in turn, inspired Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, South Portland, and eight other towns in the state to pass similar laws. We also won a polystyrene (e.g. Styrofoam) ban in Portland.
  • Our BayScaping Program is teaching thousands of residents and landscaping professionals to grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue; this is the model for the state of Maine’s YardScaping Program.
  • Our Casco Bay Curriculum has reached an estimated 17,500 students. We help teachers incorporate our monitoring data into their classroom activities. We have provided professional development courses for more than 700 teachers.
  • We fought to improve the S.D.Warren (now SAPPI) paper mill’s Clean Water Act discharge permit, significantly cutting the pollution released into our waters.
  • We helped lead the response to the largest oil spill in Maine history, the Julie N, and assisted responders in recovering an unprecedented 78% of the spilled oil (a 15-20% recovery is considered a success).
  • We were a founding member of Waterkeeper Alliance in 1999, a network that has grown to include over 300 Baykeepers, Riverkeepers, and other Waterkeepers

A special Season’s Greetings to you

Amid the delights and demands of the Holidays, we pause here to thank you and all our volunteers, donors, and supporters. You play a crucial role in our ability to monitor the environmental health of Casco Bay, engage community members to be good stewards, and protect our coastal waters from pollution. May the serenity of the season find its way into your heart—along with our gratitude!

We look forward to meeting the challenges ahead in the New Year, confident that with the support of Friends like you, we will forge ahead toward a healthier Casco Bay.

Warmest regards,

Cathy L. Ramsdell, CPA
Executive Director

Did you see our top 10 stories of 2019?

Let’s walk down Memory Lane together to recall our most popular stories of the year, based on your visits to our website and our social media interactions:

  • You answered the call when Casco Bay needed your voice. We asked our supporters to urge the Maine Legislature’s Committee on Marine Resources to pass a bill to create a Climate Change and Ocean Acidification Commission. Ultimately, our bill was incorporated into the Governor’s comprehensive climate change bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support.
  • Maine takes a BIG step forward to address climate change. Our Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca was appointed to serve on the Coastal and Marine Working Group of the newly-created Maine Climate Council.
  • Casco Bay Temperature Extremes Whenever Research Associate Mike Doan is asked, “What were the highest and the lowest water temperatures this year?” he directs folks to our Continuous Monitoring Station data, which document water conditions in the Bay on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis.
  • Our new pumpout boat is taking care of business. More than 100 friends cheered the christening and launch of Headmaster, the new pumpout boat specially built for Friends of Casco Bay.
  • Have you seen this fin? It’s not a shark! Several boaters on the Bay encountered Mola mola, or ocean sunfish, this summer.
  • Casco Bay Matters More than 380 people attended our presentations on Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, and You. If you missed our Casco Bay Matters presentations, you can see the series of three videos on our YouTube channel.
  • BEE a BayScaper! Jane Benesch’s yard attracts butterflies and bees — and neighbors who stop to admire her flower beds, vegetable gardens, tiny lawn — and her BayScaper sign.
  • Hosting so many service days with local companies this year is great for Casco Bay. Friends of Casco Bay led 22 coastal cleanups this summer. Remarked Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman, “Still, we always found plenty of debris to pick up!”
  • Keep pet waste out of the Bay! While we were examining a pollution incident in Cumberland, we came across a pile of dog poop bags at the outfall of a storm drain. When pet lovers toss poop bags into a storm drain, they are not doing the Bay any favors.
  • Water Reporters report in about #sealevelrise. Volunteer Water Reporters were out taking photos of the high tides to document flooded streets and eroding coastlines — warning signs of sea level rise.

We look forward to keeping you updated in the New Year. Our emails will help you stay on top of news about Casco Bay in 2020, including our 30th anniversary celebration on April 29, 2020, at Ocean Gateway in Portland. Mark your calendar and save the date!

Happy Holidays from Friends of Casco Bay

 

In this season of giving, please receive our special thanks for helping to protect the health of Casco Bay.

2019 has been a banner year for us. We continue our work at the local level and with focus on the importance of our coastal waters. We have moved the needle toward a healthier, more protected Bay. Our work has resonated in communities around the Bay and beyond:

  • We worked with state legislators and other environmental groups to draft a bill to establish a state-funded marine advisory commission. This bill was integrated into the Governor’s comprehensive climate bill, which established the Maine Climate Council. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca was invited to serve on the Climate Council’s Coastal and Marine Working Group.
  • We organized stakeholder meetings with legislators, resource harvesters, scientists, and concerned citizens, to help the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership write the report, “An Action Plan to Address and Adapt to Ocean Climate Change in Maine.” The report will be used as a resource and guide for Maine Climate Council’s Coastal and Marine Working Group.
  • We presented three programs, free and open to the public, on Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, and You, in our first-ever Casco Bay Matters series. Friends of Casco Bay staff members described the research, policies, and actions needed to help address threats from climate change to Maine’s marine economy and quality of life. More than 380 people in Portland, South Portland, and Brunswick came to hear what we had to say. They left armed with actions they could take to make a difference.
  • Nearly 200 volunteers have signed up as Water Reporters, our observing network for Casco Bay. You can check out their observations here.
  • We amped up our work to understand a changing Casco Bay through our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth, which collects data hourly, year-round. The station is well into its fourth year of data collection. We continue to spot-check the health of the Bay at 21 additional sites around the Bay. Check out our “Cage of Science’s” data at cascobay.org/our-work/science/continuous-monitoring-station.

We would not be effective if not for our volunteers, members and the local businesses and foundations that support our work. You are all Friends of the Bay.

As we look ahead to 2020, we invite you to our 30th anniversary celebration on April 29, 2020, at Ocean Gateway in Portland. Mark your calendar and save the date!

May the beauty of the season find its way into your heart — along with our gratitude.

Warmest regards,

Cathy L. Ramsdell, CPA
Executive Director

Science: We help you see what is going on beneath the surface of the Bay

Before we started monitoring the water quality of Casco Bay, no one knew how healthy or polluted the Bay actually was. Thanks to the data we have been collecting at dozens of shoreside and offshore sites, we can state that the water temperature of Casco Bay has risen by 2.5°F, on average, since 1993.

Our long-term data set is enhanced by our Continuous Monitoring Station that has been monitoring the health of the Bay hourly, 365 days a year, since 2016. Anchored below a pier in Yarmouth, it provides the frequent, high-volume stream of data necessary to accurately track changes that may impact the oysters, clams, lobsters, and eelgrass within the Bay.

“Climate change is happening so rapidly, we needed to add to the way we collect data,” observed Research Associate Mike Doan. Since July 20, 2016, our Continuous Monitoring Station has been gathering data around the clock, all year long. Each month, we post information on 10 measures that document water quality at our monitoring site in Yarmouth, near the coastal midpoint of Casco Bay. 

Our Monitoring Station is fondly nicknamed the “Cage of Science” because its high-tech sensors are housed inside a converted lobster trap. These instruments measure temperature, salinity, oxygen, pH, carbon dioxide, and more.

These data help us gain new insights—and new questions–on the health of the Bay. Others are finding these data useful, too. Scientists use our data to inform their own research. Policy makers refer to our data to support legislative action on climate change. Classroom teachers have their students analyze our data to launch discussions on what humans can do to improve water quality. Recently, we discovered that young visitors to the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine measure the temperature and salinity of the Museum’s touch tank and compare their readings to our real-world data on Casco Bay.

We have posted our data online for all to see. Visit cascobay.org to see for yourself how Casco Bay is changing month by month.

The news media have recently reported on our plan to expand our array of Continuous Monitoring Stations to get a better understanding of the dynamics of Casco Bay:

We’re still monitoring the health of Casco Bay, and you can too

March 25, 2020

It is lonely out on the pier where Staff Scientist Mike Doan is collecting data on the health of Casco Bay — and he is playing it safe, taking his own selfie as seen here. We are continuing to monitor the health of Casco Bay. Our Continuous Monitoring Station is still… Read more

Donate to Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund

March 24, 2020

Friends of Casco Bay is creating a $1.5 million fund to be used over the next ten years to understand how Casco Bay is being affected by climate change. We will launch and maintain three oceanographic Continuous Monitoring Stations at three coastal sites around the Bay to collect data on… Read more

The Bay Is Blooming

March 4, 2020

What are the signs of spring for you? Chirping chickadees? Street sweeping? Longer daylight? Changing the clocks? (March 8th is the start of Daylight Savings Time!) The lengthening daylight jumpstarts the growth of phytoplankton, the single-celled plants that are the foundation of the ocean food web. Like plants on land, they… Read more

A warm winter, even in Casco Bay

February 20, 2020

If you are thinking this past January was unusually warm, you would not be wrong. January 2020 was Earth’s warmest January in 141 years of temperature records, according to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. According to WCSH6 meteorologist Keith Carson, Portland’s average temperature from December 1, 2019, to February… Read more

We are celebrating our 30th—the “pearl anniversary”

January 8, 2020

Pearls are gemstones that mark a 30th anniversary. Pearls are symbolic of wisdom gained through experience. We have learned a lot in 30 years! A pearl is created by an oyster in response to an irritant. A pearl can form over time as an oyster secretes layer upon layer of… Read more

Three decades of success – the impact of Friends of Casco Bay

December 31, 2019

Friends of Casco Bay has a long history of success. Since our founding in 1989, our work-with, science-based approach has moved the needle toward a healthier, more protected Bay. We championed a halt to cruise ship pollution and won a No Discharge Area designation for Casco Bay, the first in… Read more

What Do Shopping Carts, Soggy Newspapers, and Cigarette Butts Have in Common?

They don’t belong in the Bay!

We have 285 volunteers to thank for removing these items from the coastline this year.

Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman and our college interns Alexis Burns and Corey Ackerson conducted 22 coastal cleanups. We had so many requests for community service projects that volunteers sometimes scoured the same location only four days apart. “Still,” said Sarah, “we always found a surprising amount of trash to pick up!”

Volunteers entered data into Clean Swell, an app that tallies the amount of debris as it is collected. From May to September, volunteers collected over 16,122 cigarette butts, 6,680 tiny plastic pieces, and 2,541 food wrappers.

They hauled off a shopping cart, clothing, lobster buoys, a wicker chair, fireworks, bundles of soggy newspapers, broken glass, and three sets of keys.

Despite the challenges and a certain gross factor (we supply Latex gloves, tongs to pick up dangerous material, and hand sanitizer), volunteers were enthusiastic about their service. Staff members from L.L.Bean participated in a cleanup of Back Cove in late August. Team leader Sarah Callender wrote to Sarah and Alexis afterward, “It was very gratifying to see the visual impact of our pickup, as well as to receive encouragement from people walking by. I think seeing us cleaning up the waterfront may inspire others not to toss that straw or candy wrapper. We were surprised that those tiny pieces of debris added up to 30 pounds of trash in two hours! The fact that Friends of Casco Bay does so many clean-ups speaks to how important their role is in our community.”

A busy year for our volunteers:

Water Reporter: 185 volunteers, 775 observations posted for the Casco Bay watershed

Coastal Cleanups: 22 cleanup events, 285 participants, 937 lbs. of trash

Storm Drain Stenciling: 4 events, 46 volunteers, 322 storm drains stenciled

If you are interested in participating in coastal cleanups, starting next April, email volunteer [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Temperature Extremes

Research Associate Mike Doan is often asked, “What were the highest and the lowest water temperatures this year?” Thanks to our Continuous Monitoring Station, Mike is able to share those with confidence. Mike can tell you about water conditions in the Bay on an hourly, daily, weekly, seasonal, or yearly basis, in far more detail than ever before. “Along with identifying temperature extremes, we are interested in being able to monitor how seasons are shifting as Casco Bay continues warming. For example, we are looking at how many days a year the daily average temperature rises above 15°C [59°F] and falls below 5°C [41°F]. In 2018, we had 103 days above 15°C, compared to 97 days in 2017.”

Observes Mike, “2019 is on track to be as warm as 2018 was. With only three years of continuous data, it is much too early to call this a ‘trend,’ but these measurements support our concern that Casco Bay is getting warmer.” Temperature influences how much oxygen and carbon dioxide the water can hold, the rate of plant growth and decay, the movement of currents, and the geographic distribution of marine life. Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Station has been amassing hourly data on the health of the Bay since July 20, 2016. This “Cage of Science” consists of a modified lobster trap that houses a data sonde and a carbon dioxide sensor. It is funded, in part, by Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and other generous donors. We post the data on our website at cascobay.org/continuous-monitoring-station, where anyone can check out ten parameters that tell us about conditions in Casco Bay.

The Continuous Monitoring Station is anchored just above the ocean floor in Yarmouth. This location was chosen because it is near the coastal midpoint of Casco Bay. We look forward to installing additional monitoring stations at opposite ends of the Bay, near Portland Harbor and in eastern Casco Bay. By establishing an array of three stations, we will be able to understand the variability and change in the eastern, middle, and western regions of the Bay. Says Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, “We do not collect data merely for the sake of collecting data. The science is used for informing our advocacy and education efforts. What we are learning from our Cage of Science can help our communities understand that conditions are changing, and together we can explore possible responses.”