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Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Eelgrass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What was your favorite Casco Bay moment of 2021?

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 2021. Here are our top ten stories of the year:

1) We crossed the finish line on our Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund. More than 700 Friends of the Bay contributed $1.5 million to the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund for Technology, Monitoring, and Community Engagement. These funds enabled us to launch two new Continuous Monitoring Stations in Casco Bay and will support the maintenance of all three of our stations for the next decade.

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

2) We launched two new Continuous Monitoring Stations. With the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund completed, we launched two new Continuous Monitoring Stations in Casco Bay! This past spring, our new stations splashed down in Harpswell and Portland Harbor, and Staff Scientist Mike Doan walked us through their preliminary data.

3) We successfully advocated for forward-looking climate change legislation Augusta. We were thrilled to see Maine pass legislation to adapt our stormwater, land use, and planning laws to incorporate climate change projections, a top priority of Maine’s Climate Action Plan. Scores of Friends submitted testimony in support of “LD 1572 Resolve, To Analyze the Impact of Sea Level Rise.” If you were one of them, thank you!

4) We celebrated the career and contributions of Cathy Ramsdell. Our former Executive Director, Cathy Ramsdell, retired in September after 18 amazing years at the helm of Friends of Casco Bay. We hosted an outdoor celebration in honor of Cathy at Portland Yacht Services on August 26. At the event, staff and board members shared reflections on Cathy’s leadership and Gulf of Maine poet Gary Lawless read his poem, “For Casco Bay, for Us.

5) Water Reporter Rick Frantz revealed the impacts of erosion. We have all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but have you ever seen a photo that is worth 17 years? Volunteer Water Reporter Rick Frantz compared photos of Diamond Cove Beach from 2004 and 2021 to reveal the slow work of erosion over nearly two decades.

6) We supported many legislative victories for Maine’s environment and Casco Bay. Casco Bay will be cleaner and healthier, and our communities will be safer due to the many environmental victories passed in Augusta this year. Issues facing the Bay that are being addressed by new policies and laws include: sea level rise, expired marine flare disposal, changing eelgrass and salt marsh habitat, and public coastal access.

Volunteer Water Reporters and Friends of Casco Bay staff visited two Brunswick salt marshes in early September, where they shared observational insights and discussed local ecology.

7) Water Reporters documented an eelgrass mystery in Casco Bay. Volunteer Water Reporters observed an increase in torn and uprooted eelgrass in Casco Bay between August and September. Eelgrass is critically important to the health of the marine environment as it supports fisheries, maintains water quality, and acts as a carbon sink.

8) Staff Scientist Mike Doan showed us how phytoplankton affect the Bay. Many factors cause seasonal changes in Casco Bay. The activity of phytoplankton is one of them. Looking at data from our Continuous Monitoring Stations we see how these microscopic plants at the base of the marine food web can dramatically change the levels of acidity, oxygen, nutrient availability, and other factors in the Bay.

9) We monitored and supported cleanup efforts after an oil spill closed Willard Beach. It has been a rough few months for Willard Beach in South Portland. In addition to a sewer main break in October, Willard Beach was closed for three days at the end of August to accommodate cleanup efforts and protect public health from an oil spill. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca toured the site of the spill and commended the cleanup efforts led by state, local, and private agencies.

10) Water Reporters learned about oil spills and algal blooms from regional experts. Volunteer Water Reporters connected with regional experts from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Maine Department of Marine Resources in an illuminating discussion about identifying and reporting oil spills and algal blooms seen on Casco Bay.

We look forward to keeping you updated in the New Year. Thank you for being a Friend of Casco Bay.

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 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!