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Boaters: please help keep Casco Bay blue

For many of us boaters, there are few places we would rather be than out on the waters of Casco Bay. Cool, salty ocean air breezes by as we navigate around the iconic Calendar Islands that dot this amazing Bay.

As boaters, we love Casco Bay.

And what we do matters. Casco Bay is large, and so, too, is the boating community. When returning to a marina or a mooring field after a day out on the Bay, take a look around at how many hundreds of vessels you see.

It can be easy to think that our individual actions don’t influence the health of our coastal waters. But considering that thousands of boats anchor in and pass through Casco Bay each summer, the cumulative impact of our individual actions can add up fast. This is why we practice Habits for a Healthy Bay to keep our waters clean now and for generations to come.

Habits for a Healthy Bay

Don’t pee over the side and don’t dump poop in the Bay

Casco Bay is a federally-designated No Discharge Area, which means it is illegal to release blackwater (raw or treated sewage) from any vessel into the Bay – this includes peeing over the side. All boats must hold their blackwater until it can be removed at a pumpout facility. Smaller boats without an onboard toilet also must collect blackwater and human waste to be disposed of at facilities on land. Many boaters keep an emergency bucket onboard for such situations.

Leave no trace, nothing over the side

A wide variety of trash and litter can be found on the shores and in the waters of Casco Bay. Marine debris harms wildlife, disrupts biological productivity, and releases toxins into the Bay. Always secure plastic bags, cans, and other potential litter while out on the water and properly dispose of them on land. Just like hikers on their favorite trails, we boaters on Casco Bay are expected to leave no trace.

Gas up the boat, not the Bay

Gas, oil, and other petroleum products are toxic to marine life and do not belong in Casco Bay. As power boaters, we have all made the mistake of spilling fuel at the gas pump. We keep spill pads on our boat to clean up these spills. If you do not have a spill pad available, ask your marina operator for one.

Report what you see, become a Water Reporter

As boaters on the Bay, we often encounter conditions that go unnoticed from shore. If you are on the water and notice the strong smell of gasoline or observe an oil spill, report it immediately to Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s Oil Spill hotline: (800) 482-0777.

In addition to oil spills, boaters can help report nuisance and harmful algal blooms, pollution, and sightings of marine life. To report phenomena like these, we ask boaters to sign-up to be a volunteer Water Reporter — our citizen observing network that documents changing and concerning conditions on and around Casco Bay.

The health of our waters depends on us.

Find out more at cascobay.org/boating.


Three decades of success – the impact of Friends of Casco Bay

Friends of Casco Bay has a long history of success. Since our founding in 1989, our work-with, science-based approach has moved the needle toward a healthier, more protected Bay.

  • We championed a halt to cruise ship pollution and won a No Discharge Area designation for Casco Bay, the first in Maine.
  • We have secured better long-term protection through Clean Water Act classification upgrades for three areas of Casco Bay, ensuring stricter, permanent pollution restrictions.
  • Our water quality data are sent to Congress every two years; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection uses our data in its Clean Water Act biennial reporting to Congress and would not be in compliance without it.
  • We advocated for Portland to get back on track—and we continue to push to keep efforts on track— to fulfill its court-ordered agreement to clean up and eliminate dozens of combined sewer overflows, reducing the amount of raw sewage flowing into the Bay.
  • We are leading the call to reduce nitrogen discharges into our coastal waters. We forged an agreement with Portland Water District, which set a goal of reducing nitrogen coming out of the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility. During the summer of 2018, they reduced nitrogen levels by 70%, on average.
  • Our data and advocacy inspired South Portland and Portland to pass the strictest ordinances in the state to reduce pollution from pesticides. Harpswell also passed a pesticide ordinance with our input, and other communities are considering similar restrictions.
  • We convinced the legislature to form an Ocean Acidification Commission to investigate and make policy recommendations to address our acidifying waters.
  • We helped form the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) to coordinate the work of researchers, government officials, and advocates to reduce acidification and address climate change. Our Casco Baykeeper currently serves as the coordinator of MOCA.
  • We successfully advocated for Portland to pass an ordinance designed to discourage single-use bags in favor of reusable ones. The bag ordinance, in turn, inspired Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, South Portland, and eight other towns in the state to pass similar laws. We also won a polystyrene (e.g. Styrofoam) ban in Portland.
  • Our BayScaping Program is teaching thousands of residents and landscaping professionals to grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue; this is the model for the state of Maine’s YardScaping Program.
  • Our Casco Bay Curriculum has reached an estimated 17,500 students. We help teachers incorporate our monitoring data into their classroom activities. We have provided professional development courses for more than 700 teachers.
  • We fought to improve the S.D.Warren (now SAPPI) paper mill’s Clean Water Act discharge permit, significantly cutting the pollution released into our waters.
  • We helped lead the response to the largest oil spill in Maine history, the Julie N, and assisted responders in recovering an unprecedented 78% of the spilled oil (a 15-20% recovery is considered a success).
  • We were a founding member of Waterkeeper Alliance in 1999, a network that has grown to include over 300 Baykeepers, Riverkeepers, and other Waterkeepers

What Do Shopping Carts, Soggy Newspapers, and Cigarette Butts Have in Common?

They don’t belong in the Bay!

We have 285 volunteers to thank for removing these items from the coastline this year.

Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman and our college interns Alexis Burns and Corey Ackerson conducted 22 coastal cleanups. We had so many requests for community service projects that volunteers sometimes scoured the same location only four days apart. “Still,” said Sarah, “we always found a surprising amount of trash to pick up!”

Volunteers entered data into Clean Swell, an app that tallies the amount of debris as it is collected. From May to September, volunteers collected over 16,122 cigarette butts, 6,680 tiny plastic pieces, and 2,541 food wrappers.

They hauled off a shopping cart, clothing, lobster buoys, a wicker chair, fireworks, bundles of soggy newspapers, broken glass, and three sets of keys.

Despite the challenges and a certain gross factor (we supply Latex gloves, tongs to pick up dangerous material, and hand sanitizer), volunteers were enthusiastic about their service. Staff members from L.L.Bean participated in a cleanup of Back Cove in late August. Team leader Sarah Callender wrote to Sarah and Alexis afterward, “It was very gratifying to see the visual impact of our pickup, as well as to receive encouragement from people walking by. I think seeing us cleaning up the waterfront may inspire others not to toss that straw or candy wrapper. We were surprised that those tiny pieces of debris added up to 30 pounds of trash in two hours! The fact that Friends of Casco Bay does so many clean-ups speaks to how important their role is in our community.”

A busy year for our volunteers:

Water Reporter: 185 volunteers, 775 observations posted for the Casco Bay watershed

Coastal Cleanups: 22 cleanup events, 285 participants, 937 lbs. of trash

Storm Drain Stenciling: 4 events, 46 volunteers, 322 storm drains stenciled

If you are interested in participating in coastal cleanups, starting next April, email volunteer [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Luke’s Lobster & Allagash team up with us for a Back Cove Cleanup on May 11, 2019

This event is limited to 60 participants, and we have reached that limit. Please consider signing up as a volunteer here: https://www.cascobay.org/about-us/volunteer.

Can you think of a better combination than lobster, beer, and the Bay?

On Saturday, May 11, Friends of Casco Bay, Luke’s Lobster, and Allagash Brewing are teaming up to host a community cleanup of Back Cove in Portland from 9 AM to Noon. Afterward, participants are invited to regroup at Portland Pier for a preview of Luke’s Lobster’s new restaurant, set to open on the site this June.

It takes a community to protect our coastal waters. A Coastal cleanup is a great way to work together to take care of our fragile marine environment. Storm Drain Stenciling is a hands‐on way for you to “take to the streets” and create a greater awareness for reducing stormwater pollution.

The litter and marine debris that wind up on our shores come from many sources and we are delighted to work with Luke’s and Allagash to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Join us by registering below.

Event Details:

Saturday, May 11, 2019 (Rain date: Saturday, May 18)
9 AM-2 PM
Meet in the Back Cove Parking Lot

Note: The cleanup is limited to 60 participants, so don’t forget to sign up in advance!

    • 9:00 – 9:30 AM: sign in, learn about Friends of Casco Bay and get your cleanup supplies
    • 9:30 – 11:45 AM: Cleanup or Stencil Storm Drains
    • 11:45 AM – 12:15 PM: Wrap up
    • 12:30 – 2:00 PM: After-party with food & drink from Luke’s & Allagash
      Cleanup participants are encouraged to join us at Luke’s Lobster Portland Pier (60 Portland Pier, Portland)

The Back Cove cleanup is part of a partnership between Luke’s and Allagash to clean up oceans and raise awareness for The Keeper Fund, a charitable initiative founded in 2018 by Luke’s Lobster and the Ocean Foundation. The purpose of The Keeper Fund is to invest in projects that spur environmentally friendly economic initiatives along the coast and keep our oceans and waterways clean.  Last year, The Keeper Fund made a contribution to the Island Institute in Rockland to further research on the potential for kelp aquaculture to act as a carbon sink. This year, starting on Earth Day, Luke’s Lobster and Allagash will donate $1 to The Keeper Fund for every Allagash White sold at Luke’s, up to $10,000.To date, The Keeper Fund has donated over $18,000 in grants and in-kind donations to support aquaculture-related research and other coastal projects both within and outside of Maine.

And of course, Friends of Casco Bay has its own Keeper, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, who works year-round, along with volunteers, staff, and partners, to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

This event is limited to 60 participants, and we have reached that limit. Please consider signing up as a volunteer here: https://www.cascobay.org/about-us/volunteer.

Water Reporters watch out for Casco Bay all year long

We launched our Water Reporter Observing Network in July. Since then, our volunteer Water Reporters have been reporting the good, the bad, and the ugly of what they have been seeing out on the Bay. Here are some recent examples:

We depend on our ever-expanding network of Water Reporters to help us keep an eye on the Bay:

  • reporting problems, such as pollution or outbreaks of nuisance algal blooms,
  • commenting on daily changes in the Bay from tides to the character of the water, and
  • sharing the beauty of the Bay and its diverse plant and animal life.

Water Reporter is a worldwide social network that connects individuals with organizations like ours that are actively working to protect and improve water quality.

By using the Water Reporter app on their smartphones or tablets, Volunteers provide an instant record of their observation with a photo, the location, and the time. We can then use the app to respond and let you know what actions we took.

The Water Reporter app is an awesome way to record what is happening around our beautiful but changing Bay.

If you aren’t a Water Reporter already, we invite you to join Friends of Casco Bay’s Observing Network at cascobay.org/water-reporter. Each submission is displayed on a map, which can be seen on the sign-up page. Friends of Casco Bay Staff is notified of sightings. You can find your own posts, and you can see and comment on what others are observing around the Bay.

Sandy M shared this post on September 11th near East End Beach:

“Just more plastic junk, but c’mon,”  

Our Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman responded, remarking on how timely his observation was. “Good thing the International Coastal Cleanup day is on September 15th, 2018.”

Gerry G posted, “Back Cove looks pretty good a few hours after high tide.”

We are especially interested in how tides, storm surges, and sea level rise will impact the coastline. We encourage observers to catalogue photos of different tidal and weather conditions at the same location over time.

Friends of Casco Bay Staffer Will Everitt wrote, “Today was a #ColorbyNumbersday so I measured color at #Portland‘s East End boat launch. Green water, 6 to 8 on the Forel-Ule scale.”

Many of our Volunteers also participate in our Color by Numbers citizen science project. They use the EyeOnWater – Color app to compare the color of the water against a century-old oceanographic tool called the Forel-Ule color scale. Thisindex of 21 colors—from blue to brown—measures color as a revealing indicator of the health of oceans and lakes.

We like to see the beautiful photos, too! Sandy M shared this post of the September 22nd sunset.

Cathy Ramsdell, a leader with a plethora of skills to protect the Bay

Cathy Ramsdell, a leader with a plethora of skills to protect the Bay

Cathy Ramsdell, a leader with a plethora of skills to protect the BayIn 2015, Cathy Ramsdell, Executive Director and Casco Baykeeper Pro Tem, was featured in an exhibit at the Portland Public Library on women in maritime commerce, Staying the Course: Working Women of Portland’s Waterfront.

Cathy Ramsdell never imagined as a girl growing up in Belfast, Maine, as the first four-year Maine graduate of College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, as a CPA in Boston and Bangor, or as a private consultant to various entities over the years, that she would finally put down roots in southern Maine. Cathy has been the Executive Director for Friends of Casco Bay since 2003, half of the
organization’s 27-year history.

In 2015, in addition to dealing with the fiscal and managerial challenges of running a nonprofit with a full-time staff of 9 and more than 200 volunteers, she accepted the role of Casco Baykeeper Pro Tem. Cathy divided her time between board rooms and our Baykeeper boat, exploring ways to combat threats to the Bay from stormwater pollution and climate change.

Cathy was instrumental in helping to pass groundbreaking ordinances in Portland. She served on the City of Portland’s Green Packaging Taskforce. Two years of meetings resulted in two ordinances to reduce waste through a 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags and a ban on polystyrene packaging (e.g., Styrofoam). In effect since April 2015, these ordinances have become models for other Maine communities. Cathy also worked with Portland officials to help draft a Stormwater Service Utility Fee to find a way to share the cost of upgrading the City’s sewer systems and stormwater protections more equitably.

At the state level, Cathy worked with both industry and environmental groups to pass a law phasing out plastic microbeads, used in personal care products like facial scrubs and toothpaste. These can pass through water treatment plants and may be ingested by fish and shellfish—and seafood lovers. Maine and other states passed bans that led to a federal law banning microplastics in
December 2015.

We’d love to share more about our work with you

Invite us to give a presentation to your community

Contact Mary Cerullo: mcerullo [at] cascobay [dot] org or (207) 799-8574. Topics include:

The Health of Casco Bay: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Friends of Casco Bay works year-round on threats to clean water, such as sewage overflows, oil spills, and ocean acidification, as well as green slime, red tides, and dead zones triggered by nitrogen pollution from fertilizers and stormwater runoff. Get an update on the health of our coastal waters and learn how Casco Bay is changing.


Save the Steamers! How coastal acidification is killing our clams

Why are shellfish disappearing in parts of Casco Bay where they were once plentiful? Some clam flats are becoming more acidic, clammers can no longer find clams in traditional harvesting areas, and aquaculturists are seeing seed clams dissolve. What’s up with that?


Casco Bay Begins in Your Backyard: How to have a green yard and a blue bay

After finding pesticides and fertilizers flowing into the Bay, Friends of Casco Bay launched BayScaping, a lawn care program that doesn’t rely on toxic chemicals. Find out why our ocean-based organization is working with neighboring communities to limit or stop their use of pesticides and fertilizers on land.


Fighting Plastic Pollution

Most of are aware that plastic products can harm seabirds, dolphins, whales, and sea turtles, when they mistake plastic bags for food or become entangled in fishing gear. Now people are learning that the smallest form of plastics—microbeads—are having an unexpected impact. Microbeads can be found in shaving cream, facial scrubs, and cosmetics. They are so tiny that when they wash down the drain, they can go right through our wastewater treatment plants and into streams and rivers, and end up in our coastal waters. Microbeads absorb toxic chemicals and are ingested by shellfish, causing a health risk to humans. What can be done to stop plastic pollution? Lots!


Nabbing Nitrogen: Help Us Test the Health of the Bay

If you’d like to be a citizen scientist for a day, join us for an hour on the morning of Sunday, July 10, 2016. We plan to mobilize volunteers to help us learn more about nitrogen levels in Casco Bay. Volunteers will collect water samples at sites around Portland Harbor and bring them to designated collection sites to be sent to a lab for analysis. We will use this day of action—and the results—to educate people about Nitrogen Pollution, help the Maine Department of Environmental Protection collect valuable data, and shine the public spotlight on an issue too few understand. Find out how you can help!


Cover photo by: Dennis Welsh

Stepping up to stop marine debris

Kudos to Maine Legislators who passed a bill to seek ways to reduce marine debris in our coastal waters.

LD 427  “Resolve, Directing Certain State Agencies To Consider the Effects of Marine Debris”  simply requires that Maine’s natural resource agencies consider how they can reduce trash in our coastal waters, from large items to microplastics.


What can you do to help?

  • Thank all the Senators who passed the bill unanimously without a roll call and the Representatives in the House who voted 100 to 40 to pass this bill. It’s important to let Legislators know that you care, should the Governor veto the bill. (Find your Senator, Find Your Representative, and See How Your Representative Voted)
  • Sign up to volunteer with Friends of Casco Bay. Fill out a volunteer application here and check Beach Clean Ups.
  • Keep garbage from washing into the Bay. Whenever you stroll along the shore or sail around the Bay, bring a bag to pick up debris—even if it’s not your own.


This is just one small step in a large effort to decrease marine debris. Maine helped lead the way last legislative session when the legislature passed a state ban on non-biodegradable microbeads in personal care products. Seven other states passing their own legislation. These individual state bans created the right conditions for President Obama to sign a federal law limiting the use of microbeads in December 2015. The federal ban (summarized below) does not replace the need for other state laws to address marine debris. States like Maine must continue to lead the way to reduce our use of plastics that pollute and degrade the marine environment, affect the health of marine life and ultimately are consumed by humans with unknown consequences.


Here is a summary of the federal  bill:

  • Prohibits the manufacture or introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of a rinse off cosmetic that contains intentionally –added plastic microbeads.
  • Preempts all state laws that restrict the manufacture or introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of a rinse off cosmetic that contains intentionally –added plastic microbeads.
  • A microplastic is any solid plastic particle less than 5 millimeters that is intended to be used to exfoliate or cleanse any part of the human body.
  • A rinse off cosmetic is any article intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled or sprayed on, introduced into or otherwise applied to the human body or any part thereof for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness or altering appearance. If it contains a drug- for example an acne medicine or additive to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, it is a cosmetic and a drug.
  • July 1, 2017: ban on manufacture of rinse off cosmetics that are not drugs.
  • July 1, 2018: ban on the manufacture or introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of a rinse off cosmetic.
  • July 1, 2018: ban on manufacture of rinse off cosmetics that are drugs.
  • July 1, 2019: ban on the manufacture or introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of a rinse off cosmetic that are drugs.

This federal law does not ban lotions or many other products with plastics in them. It does not address microfibers from fleece and other synthetic clothing, and it does not address larger plastic debris from land sources (examples include Styrofoam containers from fast food and coffee) and from marine uses such as fragments from rope.

Five things you need to know to be a great Friend to Casco Bay


1.) Did you know that what we put on our lawns is showing up in Casco Bay?

In the summer of 2005, Mike Doan, Research Associate at Friends of Casco Bay, opened an envelope and gasped.  Before him appeared a table of laboratory numbers, an analysis of a sample of stormwater Mike had collected a month earlier, from the end of a pipe in Back Cove.  The readings for 2,4-D, a primary component in weed and feed products, were at the highest levels he’d seen yet in stormwater samples.  This herbicide has been classified by the World Health Organization as a possible carcinogen.

The sampling was part of our work in BayScaping, our effort to document that lawn chemicals are going into Casco Bay and to educate residents about strategies for achieving a chem-free lawn. Between 2001 and 2009, we collected rain water flowing into the Bay and analyzed the samples for a suite of pesticides. Lab results identified 7 different pesticides in 13 locations all around the Bay.

Now several municipalities are considering ordinances to restrict or ban pesticides and fertilizers. We are sharing our data and point out that fertilizers are of equal concern.


2.) Do you know why it shucks to be a clam?

When it rains, nitrogen-laden fertilizers are swept into Maine’s nearshore waters. This nitrogen pollution triggers algae blooms that release carbon dioxide when they die and decay. In seawater, carbon dioxide forms an acid. Acidification changes the chemistry of the water, inhibits shell growth in clams, mussels, oysters and other marine organisms, and is suspected as a cause of reproductive disorders in some fish.

We are encouraging communities to consider banning high-nitrogen fertilizers and weed and feed products, which contain both pesticides and fertilizers. Limiting or eliminating the use of fertilizers locally will lower the amount of nitrogen coming in to Casco Bay; this can help slow the devastating effects acidification is having on our marine resources. We are also working on several other projects to reduce nitrogen pollution from sewage discharges and stormwater runoff.


3.) Did you know that discarded hypodermic needles are regularly found on our beaches and marshes?

“Yipes! Here’s another needle!” That is a shout we frequently hear at our beach cleanups. Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland rushes over, warning the volunteers not to pick up the discarded hypodermic needles. He uses rubber gloves and tongs to dislodge the needles from the sand or salt marsh. He places them a Sharps disposal kit—basically a plastic box that can hold medical waste—to drop off later at a safe disposal site.

Even though insulin users may use sharps several times a day, the only officially recommended way that residents can dispose of them is to place them in a rigid container, such as a liquid laundry soap container, and toss them in the garbage. When these containers end up in a landfill, they may break open and spill their contents. Many users simply flush them down the toilet. When it rains, overflows of the sewage treatment system can wash the needles into the Bay.

If you should find a sharp, do NOT pick up it up. Notify local police to come pick it up. Should you be pricked by a needle, call the Maine Center for Disease Control at 1-800-821-5821.


4.) Did you know that microbeads are a megaproblem?

Those tiny granules in acne scrubs, moisturizing cleansers, whitening toothpastes, and wrinkle creams wash down the drain and may end up in our waterways. Researchers have found that ocean filter feeders such as mussels and oysters ingest these tiny pellets, passing them all the way up the food chain to humans. Last spring, Friends of Casco Bay, along with concerned citizens, other environmental and health organizations, and even industry representatives, successfully persuaded the Maine Legislature to pass a state law to phase out microbeads.

President Obama recently signed into law a federal ban on microbeads! Emma Halas-O’Connor of the Environmental Health Strategy Center observed, “Congress never could have passed this ban had it not been for individual states passing their own legislation, which put tremendous pressure on the industry to change, and creating the right conditions for a national ban.”


5.) Did you know that populations of blue mussels in Casco Bay are hanging by a thread?

Blue mussels, besides being a delicious and economical seafood for humans, provide a rich habitat for other bottom dwellers. Dense mussel beds also can dampen wave action and buffer the shorefront against storm surges.

Friends of Casco Bay Board member Ann Thayer wanted to verify anecdotal accounts that mussel beds, once so common in Casco Bay, have all but disappeared. Ann offered to head up a volunteer effort to survey the Bay. Over the past two summers, she and her team covered more than 25 areas between Portland and Harpswell. They discovered juvenile mussels on mooring ropes, wharf pilings, and floating docks.  They found far fewer thriving on the ocean floor.