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Water Reporter reveals eroding coast

We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but have you ever seen a photo that is worth 17 years?

Rick Frantz achieves such a feat by relying on his graphic design skills to compose his Water Reporter post from May 5. Images of Diamond Cove Beach from 2004 and 2021 are compared to reveal the slow process of erosion with a stark visual contrast.

“Unless it is due to a catastrophic event erosion is hard to detect on a daily basis,” wrote Rick. “Over time it becomes very obvious.”

As a longtime resident of Great Diamond Island, Rick is always close to Casco Bay. He began using Water Reporter on his daily ferry commute to Portland, back when he and his wife ran Andy’s Old Port Pub on Commercial Street. On his way to and from the mainland, Rick could see a range of conditions on the Bay spanning from the islands to the heart of the city’s working waterfront.

“I got into Water Reporter because I was always on the water, and obviously living on the water you’re concerned about the Bay,” said Rick.

Rick, thank you for your excellent Water Reporting, and for helping us protect the environmental health of Casco Bay!

Water Reporter By Sandy Marsters Portland Pier Sea Level Rise

Rising seas: confronting change and cultivating resilience

Water Reporter By Sandy Marsters Chandlers Wharf Sea Level Rise
Flooding on Portland Pier in Portland shows the local impact of sea level rise, captured by Water Reporter Sandy Marsters. The support of our Water Reporters documenting changing conditions across the Bay is proving indispensable.

Many of us are all too familiar with the feeling that the crises of climate change are larger than life, beyond the scope of our individual actions. It can be difficult to know that we can make a difference.

As climate change poses a challenge of global proportion, the strongest solutions will require the participation of many. This truth is exemplified by our community of intrepid Water Reporters, who simply by being in the right place at the right time, are capturing critical moments of climate change’s impacts around the Bay, from recording coastal erosion and nuisance algal blooms to documenting the impacts of sea level rise.

“Science shows unequivocally that our climate is changing and our seas are rising, and nothing drives home that fact quite like a photograph of city streets underwater,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “Having our Water Reporters document the real-time impacts of sea level rise around the Bay is instrumental to highlighting the fact that change is here and we must act now.”

At our Casco Bay Matters event in March, Ivy was joined by Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky to discuss the latest science on sea level rise and increasing storm intensity. Seas are rising, driven by melting glaciers and the expansion of warming ocean waters. In Casco Bay sea levels have risen for over 100 years, demonstrated by data collected in Portland Harbor. But, Peter pointed out that nearly 50 percent of documented sea level rise here in Casco Bay has occurred in the past 30 years, representing a rapid increase in the rate of change.

Looking ahead, the frequency of “nuisance” flooding events may increase ten to fifteen-fold with just a 1.0 foot rise in sea level – a modest projection of a 1.5 foot rise is expected by 2050. Another sobering projection suggests that a 1.6 foot rise would submerge roughly half of Maine’s coastal sand dunes and beaches. Coupled with the predictions of greater storm intensity, our communities must adapt our infrastructure and coastal environments.

Water Reporter By Karla Talanian Mere Point Boat Launch Sea Level Rise
Water Reporter Karla Talanian documents high tide at Mere Point Boat Launch.

As a member of the Maine Climate Council’s Coastal and Marine Working Group, Ivy has been working to help address these issues. Of the group’s many recommendations to mitigate the impacts of rising seas and increased storm surges along Maine’s coast, one proposal is to adopt “nature-based solutions.” Salt marshes and wetlands, for example, are extremely good at absorbing impacts from storm surge and rising seas while filtering pollutants and excess nutrients. However, if these services are to be provided, we must work to maintain the resiliency and health of our coastal ecosystems.

Across Casco Bay, pilot projects are testing the efficacy of a nature-based solution called a “living shoreline.” This technique stabilizes eroding shorelines with native materials, rather than with rock or cement walls, while maintaining the natural land-water interface. This allows for habitat migration and preservation. At Wharton Point in Brunswick, a living shoreline was constructed last summer using bags of oyster shells and logs along the edge of an eroding salt marsh.

“When I visited the site in March, I could see material building up on the bags. It’s such a hopeful sign that the project is helping the marsh rebuild,” says Ivy. “Efforts like this can add up. Adapting to climate change is a marathon, not a sprint. Years down the road we’ll look back and see that even these small efforts collectively made the difference.”

A living shoreline test site in Maquoit Bay shows promise for stabilizing eroding salt marshes while maintaining the ecosystem’s natural land-water interface.

Why does Casco Bay’s water look so clear?

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.

The spring phytoplankton blooms in 2019 and 2021 each peaked in February and trailed off into March. In contrast to these earlier blooms, the spring blooms of 2018 and 2020 were larger in magnitude, with each peaking in March and carrying over into April. This variability may be typical or a sign of changing conditions in Casco Bay – only more data will tell.

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.”

Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station

Continuous Monitoring Stations are Game Changer

Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station
Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station

More than 700 Friends have contributed $1.5 million to help maintain three stations for a decade.

Casco Bay is invaluable to the economy and quality of life in Maine. Our coastal waters provide us with food, recreation, transportation, inspiration, and economic opportunities.

But Casco Bay is changing and changing quickly.

How is climate change impacting Casco Bay? Is the Bay getting warmer? Are our waters acidifying? How can we continue to protect the health of Casco Bay for generations to come?

Addressing these questions involves collecting water quality data on a frequent basis and for a long time. In 2019, we created the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund for Technology, Monitoring, and Community Engagement to launch and maintain three Continuous Monitoring Stations around the Bay and communicate changing conditions to the public. This winter we reached our goal of raising $1.5 million, thanks to more than 700 Friends who donated to the Fund, making our plan a reality.

In March, we launched a new station in eastern Casco Bay in Harpswell’s Cundys Harbor. And, as the photo above shows, in May we deployed our new Portland Harbor station. They complement our existing station located at the coastal center of the Bay in Yarmouth, collecting data hourly on how the Bay is changing, 365 days a year.*

“With climate change already impacting the Bay, the launch of these stations is a game changer for us,” says Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. “Their steady streams of data will strengthen our reporting to the community and bolster our advocacy and stewardship efforts.”

Staff Scientist Mike Doan designed our Continuous Monitoring Stations, affectionately known as our “cages of science.” Oceanographic equipment in the cages collects data on temperature, acidity, dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, chlorophyll, dissolved organic matter, turbidity, salinity, and water depth.

“With three stations working at once, the science only gets better from here,” says Mike. “The Portland Harbor location is key because it is in the most heavily used part of the Bay. In eastern Casco Bay, water quality may be influenced by the Kennebec River, and our Harpswell station will track that. Across the board, these stations are deepening our knowledge of what is happening in Casco Bay.”

Data from the stations are available here.

To commemorate the launch of our two new Stations and the completion of the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund that is making this all possible, please join us for an online Casco Bay Matters event to celebrate! On Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m., Staff Scientist Mike Doan will share and compare, for the first time, data from all three Continuous Monitoring Stations.

Mike will be joined by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca to discuss how these new stations will enhance our advocacy on behalf of Casco Bay for years to come.

We hope you can join us!

What: Celebrating Data From Our New Continuous Monitoring Stations — A Casco Bay Matters Event

When: Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m.

Please register to attend this online event.

Register Now

 

 *We remain grateful that the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership has supported the launch and maintenance of our initial station.

Join us: new stations, a celebration, and data!

As spring settles on Casco Bay, ospreys return to their nests, and alewives leave the sea and swim upriver to spawn in freshwater.

The arrival of spring has always brought seasonal shifts to Casco Bay, but today climate change and human influences are impacting our coastal waters at a scale and pace we do not fully understand. That is why we are expanding our array of Continuous Monitoring Stations to monitor changing conditions in three regions of Casco Bay, every hour of every day, 365 days a year.

In March, we launched a new Continuous Monitoring Station in Harpswell’s Cundys Harbor to track conditions unique to the embayments and coves of eastern Casco Bay. Today, we launched our Portland Harbor Station to monitor water quality in the Bay’s busiest and most populated region. These two new Stations join our original Continuous Monitoring Station located at the coastal center of the Bay off Yarmouth.

To commemorate the launch of our two new Stations and the completion of the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund that is making this all possible, please join us for an online Casco Bay Matters event to celebrateOn Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m., Staff Scientist Mike Doan will share and compare, for the first time, data from all three Continuous Monitoring Stations.

Register Now

Mike will be joined by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca to discuss how these new stations will enhance our advocacy on behalf of Casco Bay for years to come.

We hope you can join us!

What: Celebrating Data From Our New Continuous Monitoring Stations — A Casco Bay Matters Event

When: Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m.

Please register to attend this online event.

Register Now

Water Reporter Post of the Month: Sally Carlisle

Growing-up sailing the waters of Penobscot Bay with her dad, Water Reporter Sally Carlisle fell in love with the coast of Maine at a young age.

Last fall, when Sally joined our community of Water Reporters, she began to notice something new about her life-long home. “Through all the years I spent on the coast, I was looking at the seals, at the boats, at all of the beautiful things there are to see!” shares Sally. “Getting involved with Water Reporter, I began to notice more than just the beauty. I saw the erosion, the sea level rise – I began to notice the change.”

One of Sally’s favorite places to walk is by the Little River at Wolfe’s Neck where she has been using Water Reporter to keep an eye on erosion. Erosion is naturally occurring in coastal environments, as the flows of estuaries and the rise and fall of tides slowly remove sediment from the shore. However, intensifying storms, rising seas, and other impacts of climate change can speed-up coastal erosion. Images like this one captured by Sally help us to visualize how quickly change is occurring and to identify locations that may benefit from intervention or support.

Water Reporter has helped Sally become more connected to the Little River area, a relationship she is sharing with her community. “I have been sharing the photos with my friends and family, and their concerns have been raised too,” says Sally. She’s even begun talking about erosion with her four-year-old granddaughter who shares with her a love for the sea.

Sally, thank you for being a Water Reporter, for sharing your passion for environmental health with your family and friends, and for caring about Casco Bay!

Good news for Casco Bay!

We have great news to share: we reached the $1.5 million goal for our Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund for Technology, Monitoring, and Community Engagement!

We launched the Fund to be used over the next decade to establish and maintain three oceanographic Continuous Monitoring Stations to collect data on how the Bay is changing. Communicating those changing conditions to our community is paramount for advocating for policies and actions needed to adapt and address the impacts of climate change.

Already, the Fund is being put to use. Staff Scientist Mike Doan has just launched a brand new Continuous Monitoring Station in Cundys Harbor, Harpswell. The launch of a third station in Portland Harbor is imminent and will make a splash in the coming weeks. These two new stations join our existing station off Yarmouth in collecting data on how the Bay is changing, every hour of every day, all year long.

To mark this milestone, we wanted to share with you this short video documenting the launch of the Yarmouth and Harpswell stations.

Having three continuous monitoring stations is a game changer for us. Together, these stations will convey conditions found across the Bay, from east to west. This wealth of data will strengthen our science and advocacy to protect the health of the Bay for years to come.

While we reached our original fundraising goal, Friends like you can still donate to the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund. Additional support will allow us to continue to maintain and operate our stations beyond the next decade. If you are inspired by our work, you can donate to the Fund here.

Donate to the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund

 

Celebrate with us

Join us on Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m., for an online event to share data from all three of our Continuous Monitoring Stations and to celebrate the ways the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund will enhance our efforts to improve and protect the health of the Bay for years to come.

Staff Scientist Mike Doan will share and compare, for the first time, data from all three continuous monitoring stations. Register here.

Register Now

We hope you join us!

Celebrating Data From Our New Continuous Monitoring Stations — A Casco Bay Matters Event

We are hosting an online event to share data from all three of our Continuous Monitoring Stations and to celebrate the ways the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund will enhance our efforts to improve and protect the health of the Bay for years to come.

On Wednesday, June 16, from 5:30-6:15 p.m., Staff Scientist Mike Doan will share and compare, for the first time, data from all three continuous monitoring stations.

He will be joined by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca to talk about how these new data sets are informing our work. Following a year of unprecedented challenge, we will take the time to commemorate our collective work to keep Casco Bay blue.

We hope you join us!

Register Now

An annual spring awakening in the Bay

Rising seas and storm surges in Casco Bay

We had an inspiring and informative conversation at our latest Casco Bay Matters event, Sea level, storms, and surges, oh my! How Maine’s coasts can be resilient to climate change. Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky from Maine Geological Survey joined Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca to illuminate the latest science on rising seas, and how we can work together to make our coastline and waters resilient to climate change.

Here is a video of the event, for those of you who were unable to attend live or would like to rewatch. Attendees asked more questions than we had time to answer, so we also created a bonus video where we answered them, see below.

If you don’t have time to watch the full event, there are a few key moments you may want to check out. We’ve assembled these three clips into one playlist to make it easy to watch. The playlist is eight minutes long.

In the first clip, Peter shares how rising seas can dramatically increase the frequency and duration of “nuisance” flooding events in Portland and along the shores of Casco Bay. Thee, Peter discusses the historical trends of sea level rise in Portland, dating back to 1912. He points out that over the past 118 years, nearly 50% of the increase in sea level has occurred since 1990. Finally, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca shares how we can respond to rising seas through adaptable policy informed by science.

 

Your sea level rise questions answered!

Event attendees asked more questions than we had time to answer . . . until now.

Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman recently followed up with Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky to answer questions we did have time to address during the event. Including:

  • Where can we get good local information about projected sea level rise in our community?
  • Can future governors disband Maine’s Climate Council?
  • What will it cost us if we don’t begin to adapt to coming changes?
  • What are some useful actions we can take to help address climate change and sea level rise?

We hope you enjoy this Casco Bay Matters bonus content!

In this bonus content video, Pete and Ivy mention a number of resources. Here are links to those resources:

We are beginning to see the effects of climate change here in Casco Bay. Anticipating and adapting to the impacts of rising seas and stronger storms will prove critical to protecting the health of our coastal waters. If you are on our email list, we will keep you informed on ways you can help make your voice heard on these issues as state and local decision makers continue to develop climate change policies. Joining our email list is also the best way to stay up to date about future events.

If you want to do more, you can always support our work by making a donation or volunteering.