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Headmaster sets the standards for a clean Casco Bay


Captain Pam Parker christened the newest member of Friends of Casco Bay’s fleet with the words, “We name you Headmaster. May the elements be kind, your captain wise, and the Bay rejoice in your work.”  More than 100 Friends of the Bay cheered as Portland Yacht Service’s giant blue travel lift Babe lowered our newly-named pumpout boat into Casco Bay. Our 26-foot pumpout boat is a very unique vessel that siphons raw sewage from the holding tanks of recreational boats, transferring the wastewater for shoreside treatment.

The ceremony on Monday, June 10, was emceed by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, who explained that the boat’s name, Headmaster, was chosen from the nearly 400 names submitted by the public. Fittingly, the name puns on the nautical term for a toilet — “head” — and gives a nod to the educational and ambassadorial role of our Vessel Pumpout Program.  To see photos from this event, visit the photo album on our Facebook page.

Through her work overseeing the state pumpout program at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Pam has been the facilitator for the federal support for our pumpout program for over two decades. Funding from the federal Clean Vessel Act financed 90% of the cost of the new boat. Our Pumpout Program has kept over 200,000 gallons of raw sewage out of the Bay since 1995.

Headmaster, built expressly for Friends of Casco Bay by Marine Boatbuilders of Warwick, Rhode Island, has a 650-gallon sewage holding tank, twice the capacity of our earlier pumpout boat, Wanda. From 1995 through 2018, Wanda pumped out marine toilets at marinas and moorings from South Portland to Freeport. She continues to be a champion for clean water in her new home at the Boston Sailing Center in Boston Harbor.

Headmaster’s Captain, Pumpout Coordinator Jim Splude is our ambassador on the Bay. In addition to servicing recreational boats from May through October, he is happy to teach customers how to perform the task themselves. Jim also educates boaters on the importance of keeping sewage, bacteria, and excess nitrogen out of the Bay.

Our Pumpout Program has done more for the health of the Bay than just serving recreational vessels. In order to become a No Discharge Area, a designation that protects our waters from cruise ship pollution, the EPA required that there be adequate pumpout facilities throughout the region before granting this designation. We encouraged local marinas to install their own pumpout stations while leading an advocacy effort to encourage Maine to request a no discharge status for the Bay. Our Pumpout Program then set the stage for Casco Bay to become Maine’s first federally-designated No Discharge Area, which prohibits vessels from dumping treated and untreated sewage.

This mobile pumpout service is part of our efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution from sewage, fertilizers, stormwater runoff, and air pollution. An overdose of nitrogen in coastal waters can trigger nuisance and harmful algal blooms that may reduce water clarity, prevent juvenile clams from settling, and suffocate animals in the mud. When these plants die, decomposing bacteria can deplete oxygen needed by marine life and create acidic conditions that make it harder for shellfish, such as clams, mussels, and oysters, to build and maintain their shells.

Learn more about our mobile pumpout service at: https://www.cascobay.org/how-to-help/pumpout/.

Whither Wanda?

Our trusty pumpout boat Wanda (aka Baykeeper II) kept over 200,000 gallons of raw sewage out of the Bay from 1995 to 2018, siphoning wastewater from the toilets of recreational boats and delivering it to shoreside facilities. After nearly a quarter century of service, it was time for an upgrade.

This spring, we took possession of a new 26-foot pumpout boat, built by Marine Boat Builders Company of Warwick, Rhode Island. Our new boat will enable us to haul 650 gallons of sewage — more than twice the capacity of our old workhorse.

Before our pumpout boat was on the scene, local boaters reported seeing raw sewage floating at popular anchorages. People sometimes said they got swimmer’s rash from being in the water.

Our Pumpout Program does more for the health of the Bay than just servicing recreational vessels. Our knowledge of pumpout facilities helped encourage local marinas to install their own pumpout stations. An added benefit of our pumpout advocacy: We led the charge for Casco Bay to become the first federally designated No Discharge Area in Maine, protecting it from cruise ship pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency requires that a region have adequate pumpout facilities before granting this designation, which prohibits boats from dumping both treated and untreated sewage.

As for Wanda, she will continue to be a champion for clean water in service for Boston Sailing Center in Boston Harbor.

Mike and Ivy on the Boat

Casco Bay Matters: Advancing the conversation—and action—on climate change

Mike and Ivy on the Boat

Living close to the ocean, Casco Bay residents are witnessing the effects of climate change happening here now: warming water temperatures, increasing ocean acidity, and more severe storms. We too are seeing the changes in our data and when we are out on the Bay.

From April through October, our Research Associate Mike Doan and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca are on the Bay frequently to monitor water quality, follow up on pollution reports, or meet with partners on issues best understood from the water. Their vigilance gives them a firsthand view of changes happening in our coastal waters.

Mike, Ivy, and Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell shared these and other observations in our first-ever Casco Bay Matters series. Nearly 400 people attended Ocean Acidification, Climate Change and You presentations about what we are learning about a changing Casco Bay.

They shared how Mainers are working together to shape policies and actions to respond to these threats. Ivy is coordinating the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification partnership, a diverse coalition of scientists, lawmakers, aquaculturalists, and seafood harvesters, who collaborate on research and strategies to confront the threats that climate change and acidification pose to Maine’s marine resources. We also are working with legislators to pass a bill to create a state-sponsored Science and Policy Advisory Council on the Impact of Climate Change on Maine’s Marine Species.

Video Recordings of Casco Bay Matters:

Casco Bay Matters Intro Video

If you missed our Casco Bay Matters presentations of Ocean Acidification, Climate Change and You, you are in luck — our stalwart volunteer Deb Dawson recorded and edited videos of our South Portland (March 25, 2019) event. See the series of three videos on our YouTube channel.

Highlights from Casco Bay Matters:

Warmer waters: Friends of Casco Bay has been tracking water temperatures for over a quarter century. On average, water temperatures in Casco Bay have risen 2.5°F (1.4°C) since 1993. The growth, reproduction, and survival of marine life are influenced by temperature.

Rising Water Temperatures in Casco Bay

More carbon dioxide in our coastal waters from air and from land: We know that burning fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, trapping heat and warming the planet. Nearly 30% of atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean. Carbon dioxide mixes with water to form carbonic acid, making the water more acidic. This is ocean acidification.

Maine’s nearshore waters are also at risk from coastal acidification. Excess nitrogen from sewage treatment plants, polluted stormwater, and fertilizers can stimulate massive algal growth. When the algal blooms die, decomposition depletes the area of lifegiving oxygen and releases carbon dioxide, further acidifying the water.

Threats to the ocean food web: More carbon dioxide in our waters means less shell-building material (calcium carbonate) for clams, mussels, and planktonic creatures that support the ocean food chain. Data from our Continuous Monitoring Station enable us to calculate the calcium carbonate saturation state — what scientists term omega aragonite — which can tell us whether, at any given time, enough calcium carbonate is readily available to shell-building creatures. Shell formation becomes more difficult for some species when the amount of available calcium carbonate falls below a 1.5 aragonite saturation state.

Our data indicate that for part of the year, levels of calcium carbonate in Casco Bay fall below the threshold for optimal shell-building for some species.

Sea level rise: As water warms, it expands, and the seas encroach on our coastline. Coastal observers and property owners are reporting more erosion.

Increasing precipitation: Maine has seen a six-inch rise in average annual precipitation since 1895, further threatening coastal properties. Torrential rains intensify erosion and flush overloads of nitrogen, pollutants, and sediments into coastal waters.

Those who depend upon the sea can attest to the fast pace of change. What do these changes mean for Casco Bay?

  • As oceans become more acidic, we can anticipate more pitting or thinning of the shells of many commercially viable species in Casco Bay, such as clams, mussels, and oysters.
  • Voracious green crabs — which eat juvenile shellfish — thrive in warming waters.
  • Rising water temperatures are linked with shell disease in crustaceans, directly impacting Maine’s iconic lobster fishery.
  • Scientists and lobstermen are documenting lobster populations shifting north and east.
  • Copepods, tiny crustaceans that are the main food source for juvenile lobsters, may not be as plump as they once were. In laboratory experiments that simulate climate changes now happening in the Gulf of Maine, copepods were less fatty. With a less nutritious diet, young lobsters must divert energy from growth and resisting disease to finding enough food to survive.

Help name our new Pumpout Boat!

Our new pumpout boat needs a name

Thank you to everyone who submitted name ideas for Friends of Casco Bay’s New Pumpout Boat! The contest is closed and we will be choosing a winner in the coming weeks. We’ll reveal the name at our New Pumpout Boat Christening & Launch Party on June 10th

You can help.

We are looking for a dynamic name for the newest member of our Baykeeper fleet. We invite you to suggest a name (or two or three or more!) using the form below.

After nearly a quarter century of service, we are replacing our old pumpout boat, Wanda [AKA Baykeeper II].  

This spring, we will take possession of the new 26-foot pumpout boat, built by Marine Boat Builders, Inc. of Warwick, Rhode Island. This boat has a 650-gallon holding tank (more than twice our old boat’s capacity), all the latest navigational equipment, and two 250HP outboards.   

Please suggest a name that we would be proud to display on our boat and is fitting for this beautiful Bay. Your suggestions should be fun or inspiring — or both! Clever is good, crass is not. If your suggestion is chosen, you will be our guest of honor at our pumpout boat launch party, win a ride on our Baykeeper Boat, R/V Joseph E. Payne, with senior staff from Friends of Casco Bay, and get some cool swag. The name will be chosen by Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell with a committee of our Board of Directors.

The deadline for submissions is 11:59 p.m., Monday, April 15.

Since Friends of Casco Bay launched its Pumpout Program in 1995, our old pumpout boat has kept over 200,000 gallons of raw sewage out of the Bay. Our Pumpout Coordinator Jim Splude services recreational boats at marinas and docks between South Portland and Freeport, pumping out holding tanks and transferring the wastewater to shoreside disposal.

Our pumpout boat and our advocacy helped encourage local marinas to install their own pumpout stations, setting the stage for Casco Bay to become the first federally-designated No Discharge Area in Maine. The EPA requires that there are adequate pumpout facilities before granting this designation, which prohibits boats from dumping treated or untreated sewage.

Before our pumpout boat was on the scene, many local boaters did not have access to pumpout services. At times, raw sewage could be seen floating at popular anchorages. People would say they got swimmer’s rash from being in the water.

Our new boat will be christened at our official launch party on Monday, June 10th. If you are on our email list, you will be invited to the party!

Thank you to everyone who submitted name ideas for Friends of Casco Bay’s New Pumpout Boat! The contest is closed and we will be choosing a winner in the coming weeks.

See what is going on beneath the surface. Check out our data!

Photograph by Kevin Morris • Aerial support provided by LightHawk

On July 20, 2016, our Continuous Monitoring Station began recording data hourly, 365 days a year. We are excited to share the first two and half years of data, collected at our water quality monitoring site in Yarmouth, near the coastal midpoint of Casco Bay. We will update these graphs monthly, so come back often and see for yourself how Casco Bay is changing.

See the data

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 Reporter Volunteers are important to our Baykeeping efforts!

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca acts as the eyes, ears, and voice of the Bay. She is on or along the water almost daily, but she can’t be everywhere. Ivy says, “We rely on volunteers to report conditions around the Bay. The Water Reporter App really helps those efforts because we instantly receive a photo that records the location and time. We can then use the app to respond and let you know what actions we took.”

Volunteers began signing up as Water Reporters in early August. More than 30 volunteers have signed up around the Bay and have posted many observations with us.

For example, Morrigan shot this image of a gull sitting on a dead harbor sea near Bangs Island. We then promptly shared this information with Marine Mammals of Maine.

In Water Reporter, hashtags are used to categorize images and Morrigan used #wildlife for this image.


In another example, Ivy took photos of an algal bloom in South Portland near Forest City Cemetery, using #algae. These photos add to our understanding of potential sources of excess nutrient loading in the area.


Morrigan provided a close-up of the thick algal mat there.

And we like to get good news, too:

Rick reported new growth of eelgrass beds sprouting along the shoreline of Great Diamond Island.


Mark reported on #wildlife of a great blue heron and egrets taking flight in Maquoit Bay.

The Water Reporter app collects all of our observations in one place in an organized and searchable way. We are so excited about the ability of this tool to record what’s happening around our beautiful but changing Bay—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We are looking for more observers to share photos of things they are seeing on the Bay all year long. If you are interested, you can join our Water Reporter network here.

Identifying the area of the Bay where you took the photo and categorizing the image with a hashtag, such as #algae, #pollution report, #trash, #wildlife, and #erosion, makes it easier for us to search for similar occurrences around the Bay.

See sea critters and our Cage of Science

Watch this short video about the Cage of Science!

You may know that Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Station—AKA our “Cage of Science”—gives us vital data about the health of the Bay. But did you also know that observations of what sea life is growing on and hanging out in the station also give us important information about conditions of our waters? In this video, Research Associate Mike Doan shows us some of the sea critters that visited the Cage of Science in August.

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

Become a Water Reporter and report what you see on Casco Bay

Want to get outside, take photos that may help protect the health of Casco Bay, and connect with other community members?

We invite you to join our new volunteer Observing Network, Water Reporter, an exciting way to share what you see around the 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 summer and fall, we continue to be on the lookout for nuisance, green algal outbreaks—and we need your help!

Join Water Reporter now.

For this project we are asking you to take photos of the Bay to document algal bloom events, water pollution and trash, shoreline erosion, and marine wildlife sightings. Through the Water Reporter app, your photos will be shared with Friends of Casco Bay, as well as with other observers. You will be able to see and comment on others’ posts and get an idea of what is going on around the Bay.

Each submission is displayed on a map and posted to individual, organization, and watershed feeds. To keep you in the loop, you will receive email notifications every time someone comments or takes action on your report.

In order to be a Water Reporter volunteer:

  • You will need a smartphone (iPhone or Android) or a tablet (iPad or Android tablet).
  • Create an account on the Water Reporter app and join the Friends of Casco Bay group.
  • Be willing to take photos of the Bay and share them on the app along with their location.
What you need to know:
  • Each photo you submit will provide a better understanding of conditions in the Bay.
  • Friends of Casco Bay is especially interested in tracking algal blooms as they occur, so if you come across one, be sure to share a photo along with the hashtag #algae.
  • For other reports please use hashtags like #trash #erosion #pollutionreport or #wildlife in the photo caption to improve search and categorization of your report for the community and Friends of Casco Bay.

What’s the big deal with green algae?

In the marine environment, nitrogen jumpstarts the growth of algae and phytoplankton, tiny plants that form the base of the ocean food chain, which in turn nurture zooplankton, clams, oysters, crabs, lobsters, fish, and whales. But too much nitrogen may trigger large blooms of nuisance algae or “green slime,” which can reduce water clarity and lower oxygen levels, making life harder for marine organisms. These nuisance algal blooms may be triggered by excess nitrogen from fertilizers, sewage, pet wastes, and emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks. For more information on excess nitrogen and green algae visit https://www.cascobay.org/our-work/science/nuisance-algal-bloom-tracking/.

We hope you will join our observing network and help us keep an eye on the Bay we all share and love!

Map of Water Reporter Observations

Tending Portland’s public spaces without pesticides

On July 1, Portland’s Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect for public properties. (In January, 2019, restrictions on applying synthetic pesticides on private property will go into effect.)

We asked City Arborist Jeff Tarling how the Parks Department may manage the City’s 721 acres of parks, playgrounds, trails, fields, and cemeteries differently. “This ordinance gives our staff opportunities to manage nature respectfully, to preserve and adapt to nature, rather than trying to control it.” Mowing high, replacing lawn with meadow, and planting native shrubs and trees are actions Jeff recommends for public and private properties.


Removing invasive plants mechanically, not chemically, is a hands-on approach Jeff endorses. Jeff showed Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell a long row of native trees and shrubs that students from King Middle School had just planted as a coastal buffer along the Back Cove parking lot. As he talked, he couldn’t resist pulling out invasive bittersweet that was overtaking other vegetation along the path.

Jeff explained that the Parks Department has assembled a “watch list” of invasive plants in their parks, which they plan to remove by hand over time, not by spraying with pesticides.

Cathy was a member of the task force that helped to shape the pesticide ordinance. She says, “As the whole community becomes more aware of the need to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, it will reduce the likelihood that lawn chemicals will move off the landscape and into the Bay.”