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.
As always, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca has been on the move, working across Casco Bay, the state—and the nation—on efforts to protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.
A peek into her appointment calendar shows some of the highlights so far this year, as she continued to track Legislative issues and to comment on proposed wastewater and stormwater discharge permits that the Department of Environmental Protection issues to municipalities.
I became coordinator of the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) for 2018.
I will help coordinate research and advocacy on ocean acidification with a strong statewide network of policy makers, fishermen, shellfish growers, and scientists. This year-long role supports our work examining coastal acidification and excess nitrogen.
I invited Portland’s Water Resources Manager, Nancy Gallinaro, and Portland Water District’s Director of Wastewater Services, Scott Firmin, to travel with me to meet the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1 Administrator, Alexandra Dapolito Dunn. We highlighted our joint efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution, combined sewer overflows, and stormwater pollution to Casco Bay. I shared our data showing the impacts of climate change on Casco Bay.
Administrator Dunn accepted our invitation to come to Maine in June to attend a meeting of the Maine Nutrient Council, a group convened by Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. Afterward, Administrator Dunn will tour the Bay on our Baykeeper boat, a great opportunity for a close-up view of issues that threaten the water quality of Casco Bay.
I traveled to Washington, DC, at the invitation of Ocean Conservancy, to meet with our Congressional delegation and ask for full funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA. The measures we pressed for passed in the omnibus budget!
Back in Maine, I submitted comments opposing offshore drilling and then attended a meeting hosted by the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management, to voice Friends of Casco Bay’s opposition to offshore drilling. I supported a resolve that was passed unanimously by our state legislature expressing its opposition to offshore drilling.
I testified at a public hearing as we worked to swiftly defeat a bill that would have practically eliminated the ability of municipalities to pass pesticide ordinances. If you contacted legislators after receiving our email alert about this issue, thank you! The bill was defeated!
I traveled to New Hampshire to attend a meeting of experts concerned about the rise in harmful algal blooms throughout the region, so we could learn more about new species appearing in Casco Bay.
I attended a meeting in West Bath, which drew together people who live and work along the New Meadows River, to discuss how expanding efforts in aquaculture may figure into the many uses of the estuary.
Research Associate Mike Doan gave Kate Simpson and Kayla McMurray, staffers for Senator Susan Collins, a ride to our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth. I met them at our “Cage of Science” as we demonstrated how we use technology to monitor the Bay hourly, 365 days a year. We explained that though we do not receive funding directly from the EPA, the Agency has a vital role in advising state regulators on strategies to reduce pollution, funding other research, and enforcing the Clean Water Act. This work helps us all protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.
The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) is a volunteer partnership that seeks to coordinate the work of governmental agencies and private organizations and citizens who are studying and implementing means to reduce the impacts of or help adapt to ocean and coastal acidification.
With my colleagues in the MOCA Partnership, I hosted a workshop for nearly 60 scientists, harvesters, policy makers, and advocates on What We Know about Ocean Acidification and Maine’s Lobsters. The event at Bowdoin College featured current research on the effects of climate change on lobsters and emphasized the need for ecosystem-level, long-term studies.
As the year progresses, I look forward to continuing to keep you updated on the biggest issues affecting the health of the waters we all love.
We see water itself as fundamental habitat. When water quality deteriorates, eelgrass, plankton, clams, and other marine creatures suffer. Thanks to our 25-year data set on water quality in Casco Bay, we now have a better overall understanding of the health of the Bay. We understand when and which areas of the Bay are likely to exhibit challenged water quality conditions.
Armed with this baseline data, we can now begin to address the question How is the Bay changing?—thus, the establishment last year of our first automated Continuous Monitoring Station. We will also continue to monitor selected sites at the surface, to supplement the historical data set compiled by our Citizen Stewards Program. And, we will look more intensively, using surface-to-bottom transects, at those regions of the Bay which present challenged conditions. New data and observations may help us begin to understand how climate change, excess nitrogen, and the changing chemistry of Casco Bay may be impacting the ocean food web.
Our Nabbing Nitrogen event in 2016 signaled to us that there is a huge reservoir of goodwill from people who want to help protect the health of the Bay and are willing to do that in short bursts of data collection efforts. We foresee new volunteer opportunities in this type of data collection, as well as in expanding other community service projects, such as coastal clean-ups, storm drain stenciling efforts, and issue-education events to inspire Champions for the Bay.
Citizen Steward volunteers will continue to be key to our organization as they help us move into this next phase of work to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Casco Bay belongs to all of us, and this Bay is fortunate to have so many Friends.
Climate researchers have found that the ocean absorbs about 25% to 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from smokestacks and tailpipes. When this excess carbon dioxide mixes with water, it can make the water more acidic. This is called ocean acidification.
More excess carbon dioxide can end up in coastal waters as a result of nitrogen pollution from fertilizers, stormwater runoff, and sewage. This nitrogen overdose stimulates a population explosion of tiny plants called phytoplankton. When these plants die and decay, bacteria consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide in bays and coves. This creates even more acidic conditions for coastal critters. This is called coastal acidification.
Coastal acidification is one more stressor for shellfish species already challenged by other impacts, such as predation by milky ribbon worms and gluttonous green crabs that flourish in warming waters. Red tides and other harmful algal blooms, exacerbated by nitrogen runoff, may close clam flats to shellfish harvesting for weeks or months.
In 2014, Friends of Casco Bay participated in the Maine Ocean Acidification Study Commission, which issued a report to the Legislature in January 2015, recommending many actions to confront this threat to our fisheries, including establishing an ocean and coastal acidification council. Efforts in 2015 to pass a law creating the council failed to garner government support.
Rather than letting a worthwhile idea die, Friends of Casco Bay, the Island Institute, and University of Maine/Maine Sea Grant formed the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) to coordinate the efforts of government agencies, private organizations, and citizens. Since its first meeting in March 2016, MOCA has held two symposia, organized working groups, and met with coastal legislators.
Outreach events and coordinated water monitoring are planned for 2017.
What can you do about coastal acidification?
Eliminate the use of fertilizers on your property
Make sure your septic system is doing its job
Reduce carbon emissions by driving less
Support clean energy policies
Opt for meatless Mondays – or more. Eating vegan reduces greenhouse gases significantly
Imagine working 8,760 hours a year. Friends of Casco Bay has two water quality monitors that do just that: a datasonde, an instrument that can measure several properties of water at once, and a specialized device that only measures carbon dioxide. They are anchored together on the ocean floor in Yarmouth to collect data once an hour, every hour, year round. Appropriately, these high tech tools comprise our new Continuous Monitoring Station. These hard workers have been in place since July 2016.
Why is this hourly data vital?
The steady flow of data our Continuous Monitoring Station collects will help us detect and document how climate change and other emerging coastal stressors may (or may not) be affecting the Bay. Hourly data will help us identify daily, seasonal, and annual trends and better understand the extent to which ocean acidification may be impacting the water chemistry of Casco Bay. The station may also help us assess sea level rise. The station collects data on oxygen levels, carbon dioxide (CO2), pH (the level of acidity of the water), salinity, temperature, chlorophyll, and water depth.
In order to ensure continuous data, we have two datasondes which are swapped and refreshed every two weeks. When he arrives at the dock in Yarmouth, Research Associate Mike Doan has less than an hour to reposition the alternate datasonde so that we don’t miss any of those 8,760 hours of information.
Mike hauls up the anchored devices, uploads data from the CO2 sensor to his laptop, and scrapes off marine hitchhikers such as sea stars, tunicates, and algae. “It’s amazing how fast sea creatures occupy any available surface, including our instruments!” says Mike. Before he leaves, he replaces the datasonde with one freshly calibrated and lowers the entire Continuous Monitoring Station back onto the ocean floor. Such attention to detail provides quality assurance that the data is accurate.
While this station is busy year around, we continue to enlist volunteers to help us understand the overall health of our marine waters and to identify troubled areas of the Bay. From April to October each year, more than 90 volunteer Citizen Stewards monitor scores of shoreside sites where they measure five parameters of the surface water: pH, salinity, water temperature, water clarity, and oxygen level. If you are interested in becoming a water quality monitoring volunteer, you can learn more about the program here.
Our volunteers, staff scientists, and now our automated partners, all play a role in helping us to better understand what is going on in Casco Bay.
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.
At the annual Labor Day clambake on Little Diamond Island, Althea and her sister Priscilla help out at the end-of-the-season event that draws the community together for a farewell to summer. While the lobsters, sweet potatoes, sausages, and corn are roasting in a fire pit outside the hundred year-old Casino, their job is to wash and de-sand freshly harvested Casco Bay clams.
Althea recalls scooping huge handfuls of clams into 8 heavy kettles to steam them for the feast. Nowadays, they have to place the clams into the pot delicately, or else the shells may end up chipped or even shattered. Althea says that the clams they buy now are smaller and more fragile than the ones she
recalls from years back.
Althea’s observations seem to correspond to observations Friends of Casco Bay has been making over the years. We are studying Coastal Acidification, the problem of increasing acidity from the ocean absorbing carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels, and, we believe, from excess nitrogen washing into coastal waters by stormwater runoff. Fertilizers, sewage discharges, and pet wastes trigger algae blooms that add excess carbon dioxide to coastal waters.
Our data shows that the acidity of Casco Bay has increased since we began our water quality monitoring program nearly 25 years ago. In 2011, we began sampling the pH (acidity) of mudflat sediments, where soft-shell clams live. We found that the mud nearest to shore was more acidic (had lower pH) than sediments further away from sources of land-based pollution. Higher acidity makes it harder for shellfish to extract calcium carbonate from their environment, the material that clams, mussels, and other mollusks need to build and strengthen their shells.
In the summer of 2014, Friends of Casco Bay installed several clam “condos” in the intertidal mudflats of Recompense Bay in Freeport. Our goal was to see what would happen when we exposed juvenile clams to acidic mud. Research Associate Mike Doan caged baby clams inside PVC tubes and left them in the mud for several days. Microscope photographs of the tiny clam spat showed that after just one week, their shells had become pitted, showing signs of dissolving.
In January 2015, the Maine Ocean Acidification Study Commission submitted its report to the Maine Legislature, cataloguing actions to protect our marine resources from the effects of ocean acidification. A key recommendation was to establish an on-going Ocean Acidification Council to monitor research and measures taken to address ocean acidification.
Efforts in 2015 to pass a law creating the council failed to get government support. Rather than letting a worthwhile idea die, three environmental advocates stepped in. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, (who was still with Conservation Law Foundation when the effort started), Friends’ Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, and Dr. Susie Arnold with the Island Institute, worked to get the job done. Together, they held a series of stakeholder meetings to create the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Coalition (MOCA). They have put together a work plan, invited key stakeholders and former Commission members to participate, and will meet every three months, starting in mid-March. Remarked Ivy, “Although MOCA is a completely voluntary coalition with no funding, I have no doubt it will do the best possible job to coordinate research and mitigation efforts to address ocean and coastal acidification in Maine.”
Valued for its rich diversity of marine life, Casco Bay was designated an Estuary of National Significance by the federal government in 1990. A technical report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on environmental benchmarks found that Casco Bay had twice as many marine organisms as other temperate bays. Since 1989, Friends of Casco Bay has been working to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.
The dots indicate work that Friends of Casco Bay volunteers and staff have done around the Bay over the past 25 years. Click on the image to see a larger version.
236,483 = Number of residents living in the Casco Bay watershed, from Bethel to the Bay (2010)
1 in 5 = Number of Mainers living in the Casco Bay watershed
578 = Miles of shoreline around the Bay
200 = Approximate area of water in the Bay in square miles
785 = Islands and exposed ledges in the Bay
$628,143,000 = Value of ocean related activities on and around Casco Bay (2011)
Working Waterfront and Scenic Postcard
Casco Bay extends from Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth to Cape Small in Phippsburg, encompassing 13 coastal communities, including two of Maine’s largest cities, Portland and South Portland, and two of Maine’s newest towns, Long Island and Chebeague Island. The Casco Bay watershed collects water across a landscape of nearly 1,000 square miles, from 42 communities between Bethel and the coast.
Casco Bay is an estuary, where rivers and tides converge. Rivers add nutrients, tides deliver cold, oxygen-rich seawater, and relatively shallow depths provide protected habitat. These factors make our estuary the feeding, breeding, and nursery grounds for 850 species of marine life in Casco Bay, from microscopic plants to migrating pilot whales, and for 150 kinds of waterbirds that nest here.
The circulation of water around Casco Bay is affected by runoff from rivers and streams, tidal action, currents, winds, and geography. Many small rivers, including the Fore, Presumpscot, Harraseeket, Royal, and Cousins, empty directly into Casco Bay, but their collective volume cannot match the influence of the Kennebec River. Even though it is not in the Casco Bay watershed, we have detected runoff from the Kennebec at Halfway Rock, nearly nine nautical miles from where the river enters the ocean.
Casco Bay is both a working waterfront—a port of call for cruise ships, oil tankers, and bulk cargo transports—and a scenic postcard of historic forts, stalwart lighthouses, and secluded anchorages.
In the mid-1800s, tanneries, foundries, slaughterhouses, and shipyards crowded the Casco Bay waterfront. Later, power plants, filling stations, tank farms, and discharge pipes from industry and sewage treatment plants were added to the shoreline. Though many of these pollution sources have been removed, polluted runoff, overflows from sewage pipes en route to sewage treatment plants, boater sewage, the threat of oil spills, and the effects of climate change jeopardize the health of the Bay.
For over 23 years, staff and volunteers have been collecting data for Friends of Casco Bay, to give us a better understanding of the health of our coastal waters. This report focuses on nitrogen, oxygen, water clarity, pH, and pesticides, to create a comprehensive overview of the water quality of the Bay.