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Thank you Color by Numbers Volunteers!

Thank you to the volunteers who helped fill this map with color!

Image from EyeOnWater website

Sixty-five volunteers have taken 860 color measurements of Casco Bay since we launched our Color by Numbers pilot project last spring. Our volunteers put a modern twist on a century-old oceanographic tool, using their smartphones and tablets to photograph and match the color of the water to the Forel-Ule color scale. This index of 21 colors—from blue to brown—measures color as a revealing indicator of the health of oceans and lakes.

Thank you to everyone involved in the Citclops project for creating, and providing the EyeOnWater app and website we utilized in this project.You can learn more about those involved with the Citclops project here.

Our next steps are to meet with our partners at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay Harbor and evaluate the measurements collected this year. Then we will be assessing this pilot project over the winter.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this important pilot project!

Water Temperatures Are Changing in Casco Bay

Our CMS allows us to identify nuances in how the Bay is changing year-to-year in far more detail than we ever could before.

Friends of Casco Bay’s newest workhorse—our Continuous Monitoring Station (CMS)—has been amassing hourly data on the health of the Bay for over two years now.

Research Associate Mike Doan is excited to be able to look at the daily, weekly, and seasonal changes in the Bay in far more detail than ever before. Mike was able to make comparisons between the first two years of data, comparisons we will continue tracking year to year. For example, the graph above shows nuances we could not have documented before:

A. The period of late summer-early fall of 2016 was warmer than the same time period in 2017.

B. The winter of 2017-18 turned colder earlier, with water temperatures dropping below 0°C before the end of December. In the previous winter, water temperatures did not drop below 0°C until late January.

C. Overall, spring and summer of 2018 were warmer than the same periods the year before.

On July 20, 2018, we marked the second anniversary of when our Continuous Monitoring Station began recording data off Yarmouth near the coastal midpoint of Casco Bay. The data are providing insights into how climate change and ocean acidification may be affecting the health of our waters.

The Station consists of a modified lobster trap that houses a data sonde and a carbon dioxide sensor, instruments that collect data on many different aspects of water conditions.

Mike is the architect of our Cage of Science. “It’s been a lot of work to get to this point,” admits Mike, “and it is exciting to see the quality and quantity of data we are collecting.” Colleagues have taken notice of how he has been able to outfit an electronic station with accurate, high-tech monitoring equipment at reasonable cost. Several scientists already are using the continuous data.

We look forward to building the long-term data set that will provide a more complete picture of a changing Casco Bay, information that can help our communities assess, mitigate, and adapt to those changes.

Why is water temperature important?
Temperature influences how much oxygen and carbon dioxide the water can hold, the rate of plant growth and decay, and the movement of currents. Temperatures also impact the geographic distribution of marine life. Menhaden (pogies), typically found in the mid-Atlantic, have been showing up in large numbers in Casco Bay. Lobstermen say that lobsters are remaining farther offshore, with fewer showing up in warmer water areas around inshore eelgrass beds. We are seeing species of phytoplankton that were never before documented in Casco Bay.

Thanks to support from Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and generous donors, our Continuous Monitoring Station collects data once an hour, every hour, year round.

BayScaping Takes Root in the Community

 

We first met Jesse O’Brien of Down East Turf Farms when South Portland was considering passing an ordinance to limit the use of pesticides. Jesse is a practicing agronomist, who says, “If you want to get good turf, you need to start with good soil.”

Initially, Jesse expressed concern about how businesses would be able to meet (some) customers’ demands for perfect lawns or athletic fields if pesticides were banned.

Jesse attended innumerable public meetings. We were at those meetings as well, sharing our data on pesticides in stormwater and our BayScaping outreach, to encourage town officials to limit the use of lawn chemicals. Jesse served for nine months on Portland’s Pesticides and Fertilizers Task Force, alongside Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. They found agreement in the philosophy, “Don’t treat your soil like dirt!”

In January 2018, Portland passed a ban on synthetic pesticides similar to one adopted by neighboring South Portland in 2016. The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance went into effect for city property on July 1, 2018, and will extend to private property on January 1, 2019.

Although Jesse worries about the unintended consequences of the ordinances, “We are in agreement that there is an overuse and misuse of lawn chemicals. I want to focus on culture practices that reduce the need for inputs.”

He has put those words into action. Today, Jesse serves on South Portland’s seven-member Pest Management Advisory Committee. In September, he recruited a dozen yard care professionals to demonstrate best practices for organic lawn care at South Portland’s Bug Light Park—teaching about overseeding, watering, aeration, soil testing, and dealing with pests. We applaud Jesse and other landscapers for helping our communities grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue.

Autumn BayScaping tips you can take this fall that will pay off next spring:
Let your soil breathe. Aeration allows water and nutrients to reach the grass’s roots. Seeding and composting on top of freshly-aerated soil can be done until the end of the growing season. Take away leaves soon after they fall.
Lower lawn mower height. Gradually reduce your mowing height to 2 to 2.5 inches before the first frost to help prevent snow mold.

Water Reporters Spur Actions to Protect the Bay

July 26—The Day the Poop Hit the Bay

Out and About with the Casco Baykeeper

On July 26, 1.69 million gallons of partially-treated wastewater overflowed from Portland’s East End Sewage Treatment Facility into Casco Bay. This story made the news and captured our attention. That same day, 9.85 million gallons of combined sewer overflows (CSOs), containing raw sewage and toxic chemicals, also entered the Bay. Not a single news outlet reported that fact.

So while swimmers—especially those preparing for the Peaks to Portland Swim—worried about the impact of the partially-treated discharge from the East End plant (wastewater that had already had solids removed and been chlorinated to kill bacteria), we worried about the close to 10 million gallons of a far more toxic slurry that entered the Bay.

On that day, the combined sewer overflow at Mackworth Street discharged 824,000 gallons of untreated water and the CSO at Dartmouth Street discharged 833,000 gallons into Back Cove. The India Street CSO discharged 415,000 gallons and the Long Wharf CSO released 563,000 gallons of untreated water into Portland Harbor.

Polluted water gushes into Casco Bay from a combined sewer overflow beneath Portland’s busy waterfront.
Photo credit: Dave Laliberte

What is a Combined Sewer Overflow?
Combined sewer systems are relics of the past that we are still using today. In Portland and many cities across the county, these systems were designed to collect—and combine— sewage and stormwater in the same pipes. Most of the time, the pipes transport all the collected wastewater to a sewage treatment plant, where it is treated and then discharged into a body of water. But when we experience heavy rains or snowmelt, the runoff entering the system exceeds the capacity of the pipes. When the pipes fill to certain levels, these antiquated systems are designed to dump a mix of stormwater, untreated waste, toxic materials, and debris directly into the ocean, or into nearby streams and rivers that flow into the Bay.
 
 
 

These periodic discharges are far more concerning to us than a one-time breach at the East End facility. For over 25 years, Friends of Casco Bay has been pushing the City to eliminate these combined sewer overflows. We are very supportive of Portland’s current work to separate combined pipes, build storage tanks, and eliminate CSOs. Over the next two years, as Casco Baykeeper, I will represent Friends of Casco Bay as a member of the stakeholder team that helps shepherd a process called integrated planning, which will enable the City to meet these objectives efficiently and in ways that best improve water quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency created the integrated planning approach to help municipalities such as Portland meet multiple Clean Water Act requirements by identifying efficiencies from separate wastewater and stormwater programs and sequencing investments so that the highest priority projects come first. This approach can also lead to more sustainable and comprehensive solutions, such as green infrastructure, that improve water quality and provide multiple benefits that enhance community vitality.

We will continue to participate, as we have for over 25 years, to help ensure that these combined efforts achieve more effective and timely improvements in water quality in Casco Bay.

 

What you can do to reduce stormwater and sewage pollution

  • Support communities’ efforts to upgrade their wastewater and stormwater systems.
  • Employ “green solutions” to reduce stormwater runoff from our own properties:
    • install permeable pavement on driveways and patios, so water percolates into the soil below
    • reduce the size of the lawn; plant shrubs and ground cover, which hold water better then turf
    • use rain barrels to catch runoff from roofs
    • Boaters should use shoreside bathroom facilities or pumpout services to keep raw sewage out of the Bay.
      Our pumpout boat operates from Memorial Day to Halloween. Contact pumpout [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Water Reporters watch out for Casco Bay all year long

Spring starts early in Casco Bay!

Our Continuous Monitoring Station chronicles the rise and fall of microscopic blooms in Casco Bay. This graph of chlorophyll fluorescence tells us that the spring bloom of phytoplankton beneath the ocean happens well before plants on land emerge from beneath the snow.

 

It may be hard to believe if you have spent any time outside this chilly winter, but spring likely has sprung in the waters of Casco Bay.

By January, the lengthening daylight has jumpstarted 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. By mid-February, daylight has increased by over an hour since December 21st, and the phytoplankton are flourishing.

Last January, 2017, there was an early bloom of phytoplankton in Casco Bay. How do we know? Friends of Casco Bay maintains an underwater sentinel that collects information about the water of the Bay every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is our Continuous Monitoring Station.

We will soon be crunching the January-February 2018 data, looking for confirmation of this year’s phytoplankton bloom.

A modified lobster trap houses a carbon dioxide sensor and a data sonde, electronic devices that continually take the pulse of the Bay. Together, they provide evidence of how our coastal waters may be changing over time. This long-term monitoring station, fondly known as “the Cage of Science,” is anchored just above the sea floor off Cousins Island in Yarmouth.

We now have over a year of hourly data on oxygen levels, carbon dioxide, pH (the level of acidity of the water), salinity, temperature, water clarity, water depth, and chlorophyll fluorescence, a measure that provides an estimate of phytoplankton abundance. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that traps the energy of the sun for photosynthesis.

Phytoplankton provide food for the smallest zooplankton. These tiny floating animals are eaten by larger zooplankton, such as copepods, shrimplike creatures. Both phytoplankton and zooplankton are at the mercy of the currents, winds, and tides.

The data from the Continuous Monitoring Station documents the changes in the water’s chemistry as a result of these blooms. The net positive effect in Casco Bay over the course of the spring season is more oxygen and less acidic water, thanks to those early-blooming phytoplankton.

Beyond Casco Bay, in the Gulf of Maine, a circular current called a gyre distributes marine life around the Gulf. The gyre transports phytoplankton to where zooplankton are hatching, just in time to feed emerging copepods, which in turn feed baby fish, clams, and other sea creatures.

Success in the ocean food web, like in much of life, depends on being in the right place at the right time.

Our Continuous Monitoring Station has been in place for about a year and a half, too soon perhaps to provide data that might indicate whether or not Casco Bay’s food web is changing. Still, every hour and every day, our cage of science is building a more complete picture of the seasons beneath the Bay, giving us insight into how climate change may alter the food web of our coastal water in years to come.

Thank you to funders of this project, including Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Davis Conservation Foundation, Horizon Foundation, Schwartz Family Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, and WEX. We also thank our Members and the many donors, local businesses, and foundations that give us operational support to do our work each year.

Cathy Ramsdell Interview

Protecting the Bay from Pesticides

Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell served for nearly a year on a task force to help the city develop the ordinance.

We are delighted to share that in January 2018, the City of Portland passed one of the strongest ordinances in the state to restrict pesticide use.

Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell served for nearly a year on a task force to help the city develop the ordinance. She often found herself a fulcrum of the group, reminding everyone of their common purpose to protect Casco Bay. The ordinance is similar to one that South Portland passed in 2016, also thanks in part to Friends of Casco Bay’s advocacy. While state and federal authorities have been slow to protect our waters from these toxic chemicals, we are heartened to see local communities take action.

Why restricting pesticide use is important for the health of the Bay: We have long been concerned about the possible impacts of lawn chemicals—pesticides and fertilizers—on the environmental health of Casco Bay. Our monitoring efforts revealed that the lawn chemicals we are putting on yards can end up in the Bay. Between 2001 and 2009, we collected rain water flowing into the Bay and analyzed the samples for a suite of pesticides. Lab results identified 9 different pesticides in 14 locations all around the Bay. Pesticides do not belong in the Bay, as they have the potential to harm lobsters, fish, and vital habitat.

 

Your eyes on the Bay–new directions in citizen science

Casco Bay, like ocean waters around the world, is changing and changing quickly. We are evolving our water quality monitoring to stay on top of the science of how the Bay may be changing.

At our Volunteer Appreciation Celebration this week [click here for photos!], we announced that we are launching two pilot projects that will enable our volunteer citizen scientists to use new technologies to increase our knowledge of the changing conditions around Casco Bay.

We rely on people all around the Bay to relay to us changes they are observing. Our new initiatives are designed to engage more volunteer citizen scientists in collecting data and sharing their observations of a changing Casco Bay.

Initiative #1: Measuring the Color and Clarity of Casco Bay

We are launching a pilot program to enlist citizen scientists to help us measure the color and clarity of our waters.

For more than a century, marine scientists have used the Forel-Ule color scale to document the color of oceans and lakes. People often consider blue water to indicate healthy oceans and dirty-brown water to indicate polluted water. In fact, scientists attest to color being an excellent indicator of what is happening in our oceans.

We are putting a modern spin on an old way of assessing water quality. We will train volunteers to use a specific smartphone app, as well as a Secchi disk. On tide-specific days and times, we will ask volunteers all around the Bay to use the app to take a photo of the water against the Secchi disk. Each volunteer will then compare the color of the water to an electronic version of the Forel-Ule scale built into the app. The protocols for this data collection are easy to follow, and the data helps address a question we often hear: “How is the Bay changing?”

We are launching this initiative because our colleagues at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences tell us that the waters of the Gulf of Maine have become increasingly yellow over the last century. We have seen heavy rains stain the surface waters of Casco Bay the color of tea. There is a lot of data on color and clarity for the Gulf of Maine, but not much has been collected in our nearshore areas.

Initiative #2: ON Casco Bay: Observing Network for Casco Bay

In 2016 and 2017, we saw a concerning increase in the number and extent of nuisance and harmful algal blooms in Casco Bay. Large mats of algae covered tidal flats, smothering animals underneath the mats, preventing juvenile clams from settling, and increasing the acidity of the sediment.

This year, we want to be on the lookout for green slime outbreaks, and Casco Bay needs more eyes looking out for its health! Friends of Casco Bay staff cannot be everywhere.

Photograph by Kevin Morris

We will enlist volunteers to help us observe and keep track of nuisance outbreaks. To do that, volunteers simply need a smartphone and a commitment to keep their eyes focused on our changing Bay.

We will train volunteers to use an innovative smartphone app that will enable them to document, catalogue, organize, and share their observations of the Bay. This information will be useful in our collaborations with other scientists, in expanding our community engagement by sharing observations on social media, and in our advocacy, to illustrate to regulators, legislators, and other policy makers changes happening around the Bay .

As this initiative evolves, we may ask volunteers to report any exciting, interesting or odd observations — from whales, osprey nests, or seals, to declines in eelgrass or mussel beds, clam die offs, jellyfish sightings, fish kills, invasive species outbreaks — you get the idea.

Stay Tuned

Be on the lookout for announcements regarding our training sessions on these pilot projects. We know that our longtime water quality monitors are eager to embark on a new adventure with us. We expect many new volunteers, who did not have the time to commit to our earlier water quality monitoring program, will jump aboard on one or both of these new efforts.

More eyes on the water and more advocates for its health are exactly what Casco Bay needs! In our experience, our volunteers are some of the most outspoken and well-spoken members of our community. We look forward to engaging more of you than ever. The commitment of volunteers will send ripple effects throughout towns around the Bay.