Good decisions are made using good data. That’s the idea behind the Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative.
“The Collaborative is made up of some of the best saltwater scientists in Maine,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “By sharing research and knowledge of climate change science, water quality monitoring issues, and ocean climate policies, we can better protect all of our coastal waters.”
Ivy coordinates the Collaborative, which includes Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, Bowdoin College, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Downeast Institute, Friends of Casco Bay, Governor’s Office of Policy, Innovation, and the Future, Island Institute, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Marine Resources, University of New Hampshire’s Ocean Processes Analysis Laboratory (OPAL), and Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve (Wells Reserve).
Staff Scientist Mike Doan (left photo) and Science and Advocacy Associate Heather Kenyon (right photo) are working with colleagues up and down Maine’s coast to improve our collective knowledge of how acidification and climate change may be affecting our waters.
A key part of the Collaborative’s current work is to develop a report of recommended equipment, sampling techniques, and quality assurance protocols to serve as a guide for researchers, agencies, and institutions up and down Maine’s coast to better monitor climate change and acidification. For this effort, Friends of Casco Bay Staff Scientist Mike Doan is working closely with colleagues from OPAL and Wells Reserve.
“We call ourselves the ‘Sensor Squad,’” says Mike. “Staff from Wells Reserve and Friends of Casco Bay are testing equipment and protocols in real-world conditions and comparing our data to OPAL’s gold standard. The goal is to ensure we are getting the most accurate climate change and acidification data we can. As the science evolves, we have to evolve, too.”
While the “Sensor Squad” may not look like superheroes, by working together, the scientists are helping improve Maine’s understanding of climate change.
“While our mission is all about Casco Bay, we recognize that climate change doesn’t stop at the watershed’s border,” says Executive Director Will Everitt. “The State of Maine can use our work as a model for what a statewide monitoring program can look like. When state agencies who are tasked with managing and protecting our marine ecosystems have better data, ultimately that helps Casco Bay and all of our coastal waters.”
Casco Bay is ever-changing. The Bay changes with each tide, each day, and each season. And now, because of climate change, our coastal waters are transforming in different ways and faster than we thought possible.
Do you want to learn about how these changes impact the health of Casco Bay? Join Friends of Casco Bay staff this Tuesday, November 28, for an online conversation about what we are learning about an ever-changing Casco Bay.
How are we tracking changing conditions? What did we learn about the Bay this year and how does that compare to recent years? How are our volunteer Water Reporters documenting changes? How do their observations compare to our scientific data? And how are we using this information to improve and protect Casco Bay?
Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, Staff Scientist Mike Doan, and Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley will answer these questions as Science and Advocacy Associate Heather Kenyon facilitates a discussion about our work.
What: An Ever-Changing Casco Bay
When: Tuesday, November 28, Noon to 1 p.m.
On November 28th, grab your lunch and join us online for this conversation. Staff Scientist Mike Doan will review the data we collected over this rainy year. He will also share how we are changing our monitoring to better understand ocean acidification. Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley will discuss how our volunteers are tracking change on the Bay and how those efforts are evolving. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca will share how these data and observations inform our advocacy to reduce pollution and support climate resiliency. Science and Advocacy Associate Heather Kenyon will moderate the panel discussion. They look forward to answering your questions about the health of the Bay.
This event will take place online, via Zoom. You must register to join this event. You will receive instructions for joining the event via email after you register. Please join us for this presentation and discussion of your questions.
Today, on World Ocean Day, we are celebrating our 31st year of collecting seasonal water quality data on the health of Casco Bay!
It also happens to be Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Ivy!
Every year, from May to October, Ivy and Staff Scientist Mike Doan take to our Baykeeper boat and truck to assess water quality at more than 20 locations in Casco Bay. This seasonal sampling includes measuring temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, total nitrogen, water clarity, salinity, and chlorophyll fluorescence (an estimate of phytoplankton abundance).
This year, for the first time, seasonal sampling will include testing for PFAS contamination in Casco Bay in collaboration with marine chemist Christoph Aeppli of Bigelow Laboratories for Ocean Sciences. PFAS are a class of widely-used, long-lasting chemicals and are an emerging pollutant of concern in Maine and around the world.
“There is an important gap in PFAS testing in Maine,” says Ivy. “Current monitoring for contamination in sources like drinking water, fish tissues, and wastewater appropriately focus on public health. However, we don’t know how PFAS pollution is affecting water quality and the environment more broadly, especially in tidal waters like Casco Bay.”
Our collaboration with Bigelow this summer will help develop a baseline understanding of PFAS levels in Casco Bay, and lay the groundwork for testing in the marine environment moving forward.
At Friends of Casco Bay, we use all of our seasonal sampling data to help assess the health of the Bay. Mike compares this seasonal work to a regular health check-up. “Like a doctor checking your blood pressure, if we find an anomaly or problem, we can do more thorough investigations,” says Mike.
Seasonal sampling also enables us to assess water quality over a large area by visiting more than 20 different sites in the Bay. That’s a key difference from our Continuous Monitoring Stations, which collect data at a much higher frequency from three locations in Casco Bay.
The seasonal data we collect this year will add to our historic 30-year dataset, which has become one of the most long-term marine water quality datasets in the United States. Our data show that Casco Bay is warming at the same alarming rate observed in the greater Gulf of Maine. They have helped to designate Casco Bay as a federal No Discharge Area and strengthen legal protections for large areas of the Bay.
We share our data with other scientists as well as with state and federal agencies that use them to meet regulatory mandates.
“For over three decades, Friends of Casco Bay’s monitoring efforts have provided scientists and regulators a crucial part of the data used to understand the condition of Casco Bay,” says Curtis Bohlen, Director of the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, one of 28 federal National Estuary Programs. “The next thirty years will see unprecedented change in the Bay. Friends’ monitoring will undoubtedly be at the center of our efforts to witness and understand those changes.”
Studying changing coastal ecosystems comes with unique challenges – Friends of Casco Bay and our partners are taking them on.
Friends of Casco Bay is facilitating the newly formed Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative, a coalition of scientists and marine organizations from the University of New Hampshire to the border of Maine and Canada working to improve climate change data collection. The Collaborative’s work acts as a model for establishing a coastwide climate change monitoring network, a key goal of Maine Won’t Wait, Maine’s Climate Action Plan.
“[The state of Maine is] participating in an ocean climate collaborative with academic and non-profit partners to coordinate and improve Maine-focused coastal and ocean acidification monitoring relevant to meeting the goals of Maine Won’t Wait,” reads the state’s two-year progress report on the Climate Action Plan. This is the Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative, which Friends of Casco Bay helps to lead!
In order to respond to the impacts of climate change, policymakers, resource harvesters, and other marine-dependent persons and industries must have reliable data. With these data in hand, they can make informed decisions to protect coastal resources, foster resilient habitat, and adapt fisheries management.
This is easier said than done. Collecting data in coastal ecosystems comes with highly technical and unique challenges. In nearshore environments such as Casco Bay, the confluence of freshwater and saltwater, and the influences of human populations make studying water chemistry complex and difficult.
“Climate change is challenging to measure, especially along the coast,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “The Collaborative brings together some of the best scientific minds in Maine who are working to better understand how nearshore conditions are changing in response to excess carbon in the water. Together we can best compare equipment, evaluate data, and understand the changes we are seeing.”
One of the Collaborative’s current tasks is to compare and refine technology, quality assurance standards, and monitoring methods to better measure acidification in coastal waters. Staff Scientist Mike Doan is working closely on this effort with two other members of the Collaborative: Wells National Estuarine Reserve, and University of New Hampshire’s Ocean Process Analysis Laboratory.
The ability to effectively measure acidification is vital because oceans around the world are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Ocean acidification lowers the amount of minerals available for shell-building organisms like clams and oysters. It can also cause some harmful species of algae to bloom faster and produce more toxins. Our understanding of these impacts and others are constantly evolving because ocean acidification is a relatively new area of scientific research.
Measuring acidification along the coast is uniquely challenging because most scientific monitoring equipment is designed specifically for freshwater or offshore ocean environments.
“Effective water science in the nearshore calls for creative solutions,” says Mike. “Fortunately, everyone in this group has experience doing just that, innovating to move coastal and climate science forward.”
This technology and monitoring methods work is supported by a $200,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation. What Mike and the team learn will be shared with the rest of the Collaborative, enabling comparable marine climate data to be gathered throughout the Gulf of Maine.
Maine and ocean acidification: how did we get here?
Maine was the second state in the nation to recognize that ocean acidification poses a serious and little-understood threat to shellfisheries and coastal ecosystems. Since 2014, the state and marine organizations have convened multiple initiatives to better understand and address ocean acidification. This work ultimately resulted in a goal outlined in Maine’s Climate Action Plan to create a coastwide network of scientists to collect climate and ocean acidification data in the Gulf of Maine. These data would be accessible to inform environmental policy and fisheries management.
The Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative provides a model for how this network can work. The Collaborative includes Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, Bowdoin College, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Downeast Institute, Friends of Casco Bay, Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, Island Institute, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Marine Resources, the University of New Hampshire, and Wells Reserve. The Maine Climate Council Coordinator also participates.
With 578 miles of shoreline, Casco Bay is large. It takes many of us working together to keep an eye on this special place we all love. By volunteering as a Water Reporter and taking photos of algal blooms, eelgrass, rising sea levels, pollution, and more, you can help us to improve and protect the health of Casco Bay.
Come and learn about this exciting volunteer program at our 2023 Water Reporter Kickoff! Join us at Winslow Park in Freeport to learn specific ways you can help protect the Bay this summer. Together we will learn marine science basics and connect with fellow Water Reporters keeping an eye on Casco Bay.
After our time at Winslow, we will head to Goodfire Brewing (only 5 minutes away) for snacks and beer. There we will discuss using the Water Reporter app and any other questions you may have. It will also be a time to gather and talk about all things Casco Bay.
What: 2023 Water Reporter Kickoff When: Saturday, May 27, 2023 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Where: Winslow Park, Staples Point Rd, Freeport, Maine (Around 12:30 p.m., we’ll head to Goodfire Brewing Company, 180 South Freeport Rd, Freeport, Maine. Friends of Casco Bay will purchase some appetizers to share and you can treat yourself to a good local beer from the brewery!).
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP. If you cannot make it to this event, don’t worry. We will be hosting more Water Reporter meetups throughout the year.
Thank you to L.L.Bean, Ferris Olson Family Foundation for Ocean Stewardship, Allagash Brewing Company, and our members for their support of our Water Reporter program.
166 volunteers collected water samples from Portland Harbor to help measure and address nitrogen pollution. Here is what we found.
It was a sweltering summer morning on August 7, 2022 when 166 volunteers descended on Portland Harbor to collect water samples for nitrogen analysis.
After sending the 178 samples collected that day to the University of Maine Darling Marine Center Laboratory for analysis, the results are in.
The Nab data show nitrogen concentrations in Portland Harbor are generally highest near the shore. Lower concentrations of nitrogen are often observed in samples collected by boat from the mouth of the harbor and the middle of the harbor channel. These data suggest that land-based sources of excess nitrogen – a stormwater outfall, for example – enter the harbor at the shoreline and diffuse as water circulates with the tides.
“Seeing the data all together is remarkable,” says Staff Scientist Mike Doan. “Having so many samples collected at once gives us a robust image of nitrogen conditions in the harbor. Our incredible volunteers made this happen.” Mike adds that it is important to keep in mind that these data represent a snapshot of nitrogen conditions in the Bay’s dynamic ecosystem.
Mike compared data collected this summer to the data collected at our first Nab in 2016. The 2016 data also show nitrogen concentrations are highest near the shore. However, a key difference between the two Nabs was the weather.
The 2016 Nab coincided with a large storm. In fact, it was still raining when water samples were collected. Conversely, the 2022 Nab happened on a hot day during a summer drought.
“If land-based sources of nitrogen are affecting the harbor, we would expect nitrogen levels near the shore to be higher after a rainstorm than during a drought, and that is generally what we saw,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “The next step is to use these data to see if there are specific sources of nitrogen around the harbor that can be addressed and to help set limits in Clean Water Act permits that decrease nitrogen discharges to healthy amounts.”
Excess nitrogen can come from many sources. Sometimes the source is easy to identify because it comes from a specific spot, like a wastewater treatment plant, stormwater outfall, or combined sewer overflow discharge. Other sources can be more difficult to identify because they are picked up by stormwater that sheets off the land when it rains. These sources can include fertilizers, car exhaust, pet waste, and more.
Data from the Nab are being used to help the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) develop nitrogen criteria for Casco Bay. These criteria will describe the levels of nitrogen that water bodies can safely absorb. They will also influence nitrogen discharge limits in Clean Water Act permits. Angela Brewer, who leads the marine unit of the Bureau of Water Quality at DEP, is excited to have these data.
“The Nab data provide a unique perspective that is essential to understanding the nitrogen dynamics in Portland area surface waters,” says Angela. “This perspective is only possible with Friends of Casco Bay’s extensive and dedicated volunteer network.”
Thank you to the volunteers who collected water samples with us at Nabbing Nitrogen, and to Allagash Brewing Company and our members for funding for this community science event. You made this work possible.
Why Does Nitrogen Matter?
Nitrogen is naturally found in marine waters. A healthy amount of nitrogen fertilizes algal blooms that form the base of the food chain in Casco Bay. But excess nitrogen from human sources such as wastewater, fertilizers, stormwater, and air pollution can cause excessive algal growth that harms the health of the marine environment. Some of the impacts of nitrogen pollution include degrading eelgrass beds (which are critical fish nursery habitat), exacerbating coastal acidification, lowering oxygen levels, and shutting down shellfisheries.
More than half of the critical and federally protected seagrass meadows in Casco Bay disappeared between 2018-2022.
Eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay have declined in size by 54 percent over the past four years, a loss described as “staggering” in a new report from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This decline of the federally protected marine habitat places eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay at their smallest size since monitoring efforts began in 1993. Warmer water temperatures in Casco Bay are thought to be a primary driver.
“We’ve worried over the last few summers about what impact really warm water temperatures might have on this fragile, beautiful, and important plant,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “Eelgrass forms one of the most productive habitats in the marine environment, stores carbon, and buffers against erosion from intense storms. This is a devastating loss and we are talking with other experts to determine what we might do to save eelgrass.”
Eelgrass coverage in Casco Bay declined by 54.5 percent between 2018-2022, in addition to overall declines in the density of remaining eelgrass meadows, according to the DEP report. Much of the hardest hit eelgrass habitat in Casco Bay is in Yarmouth, Freeport, Brunswick, and Harpswell, the same areas that saw significant eelgrass loss in 2011-2012.
Eelgrass is a ribbon-like seagrass that grows in submerged waters in Casco Bay and temperate marine zones around the world. Eelgrass meadows create a habitat that is one of the most valuable and productive in the marine environment.
Eelgrass meadows form the base of a marine food web, supporting organisms like invertebrates, fish, and waterfowl (including economically important fish and shellfish). Eelgrass meadows help maintain water quality by absorbing nutrients and stabilizing sediments, and reduce erosion by absorbing the force of wave energy. Eelgrass meadows are also exceptionally good at absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.
Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine are some of the fastest-warming water bodies on the planet. Warmer water temperatures and the cascade of changes they can cause are thought to be major drivers of eelgrass loss. Warmer waters are correlated with growth in green crab populations, which are known to clip and uproot eelgrass as they search for food. Warmer water temperatures can also encourage algal blooms, which prevent light from reaching the seafloor.
The DEP report suggests light availability was a major factor contributing to the observed eelgrass loss in 2022.
Local factors such as nitrogen pollution from stormwater runoff and wastewater treatment effluents can also cause eelgrass loss. Friends of Casco Bay continues to advocate for policies and practices that reduce nitrogen pollution, and is working with DEP to develop nitrogen criteria for Maine waters.
If you were to swim in Casco Bay on a winter day, you would probably be thinking one thing: cold!
But for marine life, it’s a different story. Especially this winter.
Data from our Yarmouth Continuous Monitoring Station show Casco Bay is about 4°F warmer than the past seven winters, on average. This observation comes as scientists continue to report year-round temperatures in Casco Bay and the Gulf of Maine are rising faster than most other water bodies on the planet.
“While four degrees may not seem like much, this seemingly small change in temperature can kick off a cascade of changes throughout Casco Bay’s ecosystem,” says Staff Scientist Mike Doan. Green crabs provide a compelling example.
Originally from Europe, green crabs are estimated to have arrived in Maine around 1900 after hitching a ride on ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Their preference for feeding on shellfish like softshell clams became a clear problem in the 1950s, when an increase in water temperatures coincided with a boom in Maine’s green crab population. Softshell clam harvests plunged in those years. The fishery rebounded after colder water temperatures returned in the 1960s and the green crab population declined.
The connection between warmer water temperatures and more green crabs has been seen repeatedly in Maine. Scientists think this is partly because green crabs struggle to survive colder winters, but fare much better when water temperatures warm.
Green crab populations have surged many times in recent decades, often with devastating consequences for softshell clams and the Mainers who harvest them. In addition to predating on clams, green crabs also pose a threat to one of the most important lifeforms in Casco Bay: eelgrass.
Eelgrass is an ecologically vital, ribbon-like seagrass that grows underwater in the shallows of Casco Bay and Maine’s coast. Eelgrass meadows provide nursery habitat for many kinds of fish and shellfish, and help maintain water quality by absorbing nutrients and stabilizing sediments. Eelgrass meadows also help address climate change, as they are exceptionally good at absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.
When a green crab encounters eelgrass as it scuttles along the bottom of the Bay, it will often clip the grass at the base and continue to search the area for food. Juvenile crabs may feed on the base of the plant itself. This behavior is thought to be a major cause of eelgrass loss, where a 2012 – 2013 boom in green crab populations coincided with the loss of nearly fifty percent of the eelgrass in Casco Bay.
As we think about this winter’s warm water temperatures, green crabs, and their potential impacts, it is important to remember a common saying that any scientist will know: correlation does not imply causation. In a complex ecosystem like Casco Bay, there are many factors that influence the size of green crab populations. Temperature is only one of them.
“It would be misleading to say that we will certainly see more green crabs in the Bay this summer,” says Mike. “But with what we know from science and Maine’s history, it’s fair to say there is a good chance we will see more green crabs in the coming months.”
2) More Than 165 Volunteers Get Their Hands Wet for Casco Bay
Friends of Casco Bay volunteers took part in Nabbing Nitrogen, a Clean Water Act day of action, collecting 178 water samples from Portland Harbor in August. The samples are being analyzed for total nitrogen. The data from this community science event will support our advocacy to reduce nitrogen pollution into Casco Bay.
5) Will Everitt Takes the Helm
We hired Will Everitt to serve as our next Executive Director. Will is a familiar face, as he has served as our Communications and Development Director for the past 15 years and Interim Director from September 2021 to May 2022.
7) Water Reporter shows flooding on Chebeague wharf
Water Reporter Bill Danielson documented high tide in Casco Bay flooding over the edges of Chebeague’s Stone Wharf. High water events have become common at the wharf, leaving island residents to grapple with the need to raise the wharf in the face of rising sea levels. Bill is one of more than 400 volunteer Water Reporters who help us keep an eye on Casco Bay.
8) Protecting the Presumpscot protects the Bay
Friends of Casco Bay is working with Friends of the Presumpscot River and others to better understand water quality in the Presumpscot River, the largest river that flows into Casco Bay. “This magnificent river nourishes the estuary,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “We need a healthy Presumpscot to have a healthy Casco Bay.”
9) Cinematic Celebration and We Are Water
We debuted We Are Water, a Friends of Casco Bay short film inspired by a Gary Lawless poem, at our Cinematic Celebration for Casco Bay. Friends of the Bay joined us in person and online for the celebration, an afternoon of films curated by Maine Outdoor Film Festival.