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Water Reporter shows flooding on Chebeague wharf

A low pressure system to the east, stiff winds out of the north, and a new moon high tide all converged on January 2 to create flooding conditions at the Stone Wharf on Chebeague Island. This, according to Water Reporter and career meteorologist, Bill Danielson.

“I’m not quite a tornado watcher, but I’m the next thing to it I guess,” says Bill. “When exciting situations like high tides or storms occur, I look around to see what’s happening.”

Bill’s Water Reporter post shows high tide in Casco Bay lapping over the edges of Chebeague’s Stone Wharf, where passengers seeking to catch the Islander ferry must pass through a shallow puddle before boarding. Flooding 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.

When Bill witnesses flooding events like this one, they confirm his deep concerns regarding climate change and coastal communities. “That day was a good example of what it is going to be like on many more days in the future,” says Bill. His statement is backed up by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in a recently published report, which predicts a “profound increase in the frequency of coastal flooding” over the next three decades.

As a lifelong Northeasterner with a passion for the environment, Bill says becoming a Water Reporter with Friends of Casco Bay seemed like the logical thing to do. He appreciates the Water Reporter reminders to get out and photograph the ways the coast is changing. These photographs help us at Friends of Casco Bay to keep an eye on all corners of the coastal waters we call home, and to advocate for solutions to protect their health.

Thank you, Bill, for being a Water Reporter and for caring about Casco Bay.

Water Reporter tracks dune restoration

Sophia McNally knows Willard Beach in South Portland well. She grew up in the neighborhood on nearby Preble Street. In high school she worked as a lifeguard at Willard, watching over swimmers in Simonton Cove, which is part of Casco Bay. Today, Sofia is helping Friends of Casco Bay keep watch over this popular beach, which has had a rough year, to say the least.

On October 26 a section of sewer pipes that run underneath the dunes on Willard Beach broke, spewing untreated sewage up through the dunes into Casco Bay and into basements and crawl spaces of nearby homes. This event was separate from the oil spill that hit the beach in August. The City of South Portland quickly responded by closing the beach and digging up and replacing the broken sewer.

Unfortunately, these critical repairs demolished a portion of the beach’s dunes and their fragile vegetation. Sand dunes are an important part of a healthy coastal ecosystem. They are vital habitat and play an increasingly crucial role in protecting upland properties as climate change causes storms and surf to intensify.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Interim Director Will Everitt visited Willard Beach shortly after the sewer break was repaired. They assessed the site and connected with local residents, some of whom were worried about the loss of the sand dunes. Ivy then called the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the City of South Portland. She learned there was already a plan underway to replant the dunes with native vegetation to stabilize them before winter storms batter the beach. Within a few days, the lost portion of the dunes was reestablished and planted with native plants.

This is where Sofia comes in.

She has been tracking whether the restoration effort is taking root. On her walks along the beach Sofia has been photographing the replanted native grasses and vegetation, as well as the healthy, undisturbed dunes further along the beach. Over time, her photos will be invaluable for assessing the restoration effort.

Sofia says that documenting the dunes is a lot of fun. “It makes you feel good,” Sofia said. “You think: I’m going to take a walk on Willard Beach and take a picture while I’m at it. It makes the walk a little more meaningful.”

Sofia, thank you for being a Water Reporter and helping us keep an eye on the health of Willard Beach and Casco Bay!

Water Reporter Post of the Month: Linda Stimpson

Horseshoe crabs: ancient animals in Casco Bay

Linda Stimpson has lived in Maine for much of her adult life, but it wasn’t until recently that she first spotted this prehistoric creature – with nine eyes and ten legs – scuttling along the shore of Casco Bay.

In her Water Reporter post from July 12, Linda photographed a horseshoe crab on the stretch of beach between Wolfe’s Neck State Park and Googins Island.

“They’re ancient creatures,” said Linda, referring to the fact that these invertebrates have been on earth for over 300 million years (that is even older than dinosaurs). Despite the threatening impression that may come from their spike covered shell and long pointy tail, “they’re really quite docile,” shared Linda.

Adult horseshoe crabs live deep in the ocean, but they search out sandy shores in the spring and summer to spawn. Once on shore, females dig nests in the sand where they deposit their eggs to be fertilized by males. In Casco Bay, horseshoe crabs are known to spawn in Middle Bay and Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick, though Linda’s photo clearly shows that they also make their way further west. Linda also shared that she recently saw a horseshoe crab on the shores of Mackworth Island.

Horseshoe crabs play an important role in coastal food webs, as their eggs are a nutritious food source for fish, turtles, and migratory shore birds. In addition to their ecological importance, horseshoe crabs play a critical role in modern medicine. Their blood is used to test for the presence of bacterial endotoxins in sterile pharmaceuticals, like artificial joints, intravenous drugs, and even COVID-19 vaccines!

Linda, thank you for keeping an eye out for these ancient animals in Casco Bay, and for being a Water Reporter.

Water Reporter Post of the Month: Susan Woodman

Eyes on the intertidal: Willard Beach algal blooms

After spending her career working and living in Augusta, Susan Woodman knew exactly where she wanted to be when she retired: near the water. As an avid sea kayaker, access to the coast where she could launch her kayak was a top priority, so she chose to move to South Portland. 

“There’s nothing quite like it,” said Susan. “Kayaking on freshwater or the sea, I don’t know how you get any closer to nature. You get to see loons, seals, and all the eiders with their little ducklings, it’s really great.” 

When she is not paddling in her kayak, Susan can often be found a mile from her home walking along Willard Beach where she’s been using Water Reporter to document algal blooms and coastal erosion. One of her recent posts from June 24, shows a field of green algae carpeting the beach’s intertidal zone. A month later, Susan captured another similarly sized bloom at the same location on July 25. 

Algal blooms like the ones Susan saw can reduce water clarity, deplete dissolved oxygen levels, contribute to coastal acidification, and harm intertidal marine life like clams, mussels, and oysters. These bright green blooms are often an indicator of excess nitrogen flowing into Casco Bay from stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, and other sources of nitrogen.

Susan shares that she does not know very much about algae, and that she is far from an expert on the marine environment. However, she intuitively feels a concern for the health of Willard Beach. That feeling sparked on one of her walks a few years back, when she noticed a recent storm had caused substantial erosion and dramatically changed the appearance of the shoreline. “That was when I realized, this is something that maybe I should be paying attention to,” said Susan. 

Now when she is out on her walks, Susan carries her phone with her. If she sees something near the shore that seems striking, good or bad, she shares her observations on the Water Reporter app. Despite the feeling that she is not particularly tech-savvy, Susan has been one of our most active Water Reporters since she joined in January. 

Susan’s recent posts of algal blooms at Willard Beach prompted Friends of Casco Bay to reach out to our colleagues at the City of South Portland’s Water Resource Protection department. The city is aware of the challenges facing Willard Beach, and Water Resource Protection staff take water samples at the beach’s stormwater outfalls. The City is working to reduce nitrogen runoff into the Bay through the implementation of its recently passed fertilizer ordinance. We hope that the city’s efforts will lead to lower concentrations of nutrients in the city’s stormwater, and in turn, fewer and smaller algal blooms at Willard Beach. 

Susan, thank you for all you do to help us keep an eye on Willard Beach and Casco Bay!

Water Reporter reveals eroding coast

We’ve all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but have you ever seen a photo that is worth 17 years?

Rick Frantz achieves such a feat by relying on his graphic design skills to compose his Water Reporter post from May 5. Images of Diamond Cove Beach from 2004 and 2021 are compared to reveal the slow process of erosion with a stark visual contrast.

“Unless it is due to a catastrophic event erosion is hard to detect on a daily basis,” wrote Rick. “Over time it becomes very obvious.”

As a longtime resident of Great Diamond Island, Rick is always close to Casco Bay. He began using Water Reporter on his daily ferry commute to Portland, back when he and his wife ran Andy’s Old Port Pub on Commercial Street. On his way to and from the mainland, Rick could see a range of conditions on the Bay spanning from the islands to the heart of the city’s working waterfront.

“I got into Water Reporter because I was always on the water, and obviously living on the water you’re concerned about the Bay,” said Rick.

Rick, thank you for your excellent Water Reporting, and for helping us protect the environmental health of Casco Bay!

January 2021 Water Reporter Post of the Month

Our intrepid Water Reporters help us keep an eye on Casco Bay year round. Many return again and again to a favorite spot along the Bay, reporting on changes they see.

This month, we applaud Sara Biron, Friends of Casco Bay’s Data, Development, and Design Associate, for capturing a series of photos at Spring Point Light during an extreme low tide event (when waters were expected to be more than 15 inches below normal).

“Our office is near Spring Point, so I’ve been taking daily walks by the lighthouse for years,” shares Sara. “This was the lowest tide I’ve ever seen here, so I had to take a photo of it. You could almost walk to the lighthouse on the sand.”

As she got closer to the lighthouse, she was surprised to see shoots of eelgrass growing out of the sand.

“We love that our Water Reporters keep an eye out for eelgrass,” explains Staff Scientist Mike Doan. “Eelgrass is considered a nursery of the sea, where young lobsters, winter flounder, cod, and other species can find a safe home. Eelgrass also improves water quality, reduces shoreline erosion, and removes nitrogen and carbon dioxide from seawater. It’s a crucial habitat here in Casco Bay. Eelgrass is a sub-tidal, submerged aquatic species and only rarely grows at the lower intertidal zone. In other words, it doesn’t usually grow in places that would be completely out of the water at low tide, so Sara’s photo is an uncommon sight.”

Sara works to keep our databases up-to-date, helps with our fundraising efforts, and designs our materials. And she likes using the Water Reporter app on her phone when she strolls along the Bay. “I’m a visual person,” she says. “I like contributing as a Water Reporter because it’s an easy way to capture changes I see around the Bay. I’m not a scientist, but it feels good knowing that taking a quick photo of what I’m seeing can be useful.”

Sara’s photos not only recorded an extremely low tide, but also will help us track this bed of eelgrass.

 

We’ve been noticing that tides are higher than predicted. . .

While we’re talking about tides, we want to share a follow-up to a previous Post of the Month. Volunteer Ann Wood took a photo of Falmouth Town Landing, remarking that the tide looked much higher than the predicted high of 11.01 feet. Looking back, the verified tide height was 12.11 feet that day, more than a foot higher than predicted.

You can find out why this may be happening by joining us online at noon tomorrow for Sea level, storms, and surges, oh my! How Maine’s coasts can be resilient to climate change.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and special guest, Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky from Maine Geological Survey, will provide an overview of how Casco Bay’s coast is changing and how we can make it more resilient to climate change. You must register to attend.

Our Top 10 Moments of 2023

December 21, 2023

As this year comes to an end, let’s reflect and celebrate the many ways that we worked together to protect the health of Casco Bay in 2023. Here are our top ten stories of the year: 1) We won a four-year moratorium on new sources of pollution into the lower Presumpscot River. The… Read more

Water Reporters Deepen Their Knowledge of Casco Bay

December 19, 2023

What are some techniques for observing the natural world around me more mindfully? How can you tell if a saltwater marsh is healthy or if it is eroding at an unnatural pace? What are some commonly overlooked invasive species that are affecting Casco Bay? How is nitrogen pollution linked to the growth of… Read more

Ever-Changing Casco Bay

December 8, 2023

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. At our Ever–Changing Casco Bay event on November 28, Staff Scientist Mike Doan dove into the data we use to track… Read more

Join us! Stormwater impacts and water sampling

August 30, 2023

Want to know how heavy rainfalls, like those we have experienced this summer, impact Casco Bay? Join Friends of Casco Bay staff in South Portland on September 8 at 10 a.m. to learn about the impacts of stormwater on our local waters using both observational and scientific data. What: Stormwater Impacts and Water… Read more

Water Reporter Event: Salt Marsh Restoration

June 14, 2023

On June 29, Water Reporters are invited to Wharton Point in Brunswick to learn about salt marshes from an expert scientist. Salt marshes are under threat from erosion, rising sea levels, and green crabs. Come and learn about these important coastal ecosystems in Casco Bay and what to look for as Water Reporters when observing changes… Read more

2023 Water Reporter Kickoff

May 5, 2023

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… Read more

September 2020 2nd Water Reporter Post of the Month

With 200 square miles of water and 578 miles of shoreline, Casco Bay is large and ecologically diverse. A changing climate, rising seas, and other threats to the health of our waters can have extremely local impacts, affecting coves, embayments, and islands each in different ways. We depend on volunteers from every community around the Bay to help us track changes they are seeing through our Water Reporter project.

Lindsey Mills of News Center Maine joined Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca in the field to get a better understanding of this work. See that coverage here.

The story features the Merepoint Boat Launch in Brunswick. Our Water Reporter post of the month shows this same location.

This post, made by volunteer Dan Emery, is just one of the more than 110 observations he has shared using the Water Reporter app on his smartphone.

Dan has been helping us track the presence or absence of nuisance algal blooms around the Bay. These observations are helpful because blooms can be an indicator of nitrogen pollution. You can see that by mid-September Dan reported no algae at the boat launch.

Like many of our volunteers, Dan uses our Water Reporter project as a good excuse to explore many of the Bay’s nooks and crannies. He often bikes to locations along the Bay, making Water Reporter posts as he travels.

Dan volunteers his time, supports us through yearly membership contributions, and is a donor to our Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund and our Anchor Society. He is concerned about climate change and appreciates being able to take part in work that helps us understand how the Bay is being impacted. “I like Friends of Casco Bay because it gathers significant data relevant to climate issues, works pragmatically to affect policy and enforcement, provides clear and helpful educational materials, and engages members in its activities. Seeing the effects of climate change reinforced to me the value of giving a bequest to Friends of Casco Bay.”

We thank Dan for all the ways he is a good Friend of Casco Bay!

We appreciate Dan’s pledge and bequest to our Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund. If you would like to learn more about the Fund, you can do so here.

And, if you want to volunteer like Dan does, you can sign up here.

September 2020 Water Reporter Post of the Month

 

Jeff Brown remembers what Casco Bay was like before the Clean Water Act. In a Portland Press Herald Maine Voices column he writes:

“When I was growing up here as a boy in the 1960s and 1970s, the bay at times had a distinct odor to it. No, no, it wasn’t that sweet, wonderful marine smell you sometimes come across near ocean water. You see, if the tide was out and the breeze was blowing in, it smelled something like an open sewer — largely because that’s what it was.

At that time, it was acceptable to simply dump whatever you didn’t want into bodies of water and not worry about it. Untreated human excrement was acceptable. Up the Presumpscot River, industrial plants regularly dumped all kinds of waste into the river.”

The Clean Water Act, authored by Maine’s own Senator Ed Muskie, helped change this. Thanks to that law, passed 39 years ago, safe, clean water is considered a fundamental right.

But it takes an active, engaged community to protect the health of our coastal waters. As Jeff puts it, “The result is that America’s waterways are much cleaner today, but the work of keeping waterways clean goes on. Organizations such as Friends of Casco Bay keep an eye on what’s happening in the Bay and advocate for a healthy harbor.”

That’s why Jeff volunteers with Friends of Casco Bay as a Water Reporter. “I signed up because like many people, I’m often stunned by the Bay’s beauty and think that beauty is greatest when it’s in its natural state,” he says. “I like contributing, in my small way, to an organization that works to promote moving Casco Bay in that direction.”

Jeff is one of 230 community members who are helping to keep our coastal waterways healthy by volunteering as a Water Reporter. We have chosen his photo showing high water levels near the B&M Baked Bean plant by Back Cove in Portland as our Water Report Post of the Month.


By capturing high water events, Water Reporters such as Jeff are helping us better understand areas that could be most vulnerable to sea level rise. This effort provides the opportunity to envision what our coastal areas may experience as sea levels continue to rise. Water Reporters will be out again October 16-20, when we are likely to have higher than normal high tides.

We thank Jeff for sharing his observations of a changing Casco Bay — both through his Water Reporter efforts and through his Maine Voices piece.

July 2020 Water Reporter Post of the Month

Our volunteer Water Reporters help us record how Casco Bay is changing.

Some volunteers, including Jeff Walawender, track conditions at a particular location on the coast regularly. This allows us to capture information, before, during, and after events happen. We use this observational data to identify and work to eliminate sources of pollution to the Bay.

This is why we have picked Jeff’s photo of an algae bloom along Pleasantdale Cove in South Portland, as our post of the month.

Tracking large algal blooms like this one can help us identify sources of excess nitrogen. An overdose of nitrogen can trigger excessive growth of nuisance algae, which smothers animals that live in mudflats, reduces water clarity, lowers oxygen levels, and causes acidic conditions that make it harder for clams and mussels to build and maintain their shells.

In response to the observations Jeff recorded, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca met with South Portland officials and Portland Harbor Master Kevin Battle, talked with the Department of Environmental Protection staff, and collected water samples to identify potential sources of nitrogen that could have fertilized the excessive bloom.

“Thanks to Jeff, we had photos tracking the development of the bloom and could see how much it grew after a major rainstorm caused large flows of stormwater to discharge to the cove,” says Ivy. “We then met with city officials and collected water samples from stormwater outfall pipes and tributaries  to help us better understand what may have caused this bloom.”

Jeff likes being able to lend a hand to our efforts to protect the health of the Bay. “It feels good to be part of the solution,” he says. “I have this phone in my pocket all the time, and it’s great that in just a few seconds I can snap a photo that can make a difference. One of the greatest features of Water Reporter is that not only does it track events like nuisance algae blooms, but it can also be used to document positive changes such as the return of wildlife and vegetation.”

Water Reporters are CommUNITY Champions

WMTW’s anchor, Steve Minich, has been following the work of our 229 volunteer Water Reporters this summer and has chosen them as this week’s CommUNITY Champions. You can watch the CommUNITY Champion segment and hear more about the efforts of our volunteers tomorrow (Friday, 8/28) at 6 p.m. on channel 8.

If you are interested in becoming a Water Reporter like Jeff, email Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman to find out how to get started.

June 2020 Water Reporter Post of the Month

As we celebrate two years of Water Reporter posts, we have chosen Trish Peterson’s photo of a lush eelgrass bed at the Punchbowl on Jewell Island as our June post of the month!

We wish all eelgrass beds looked this healthy! Eelgrass has been designated by the federal government as essential fish habitat and a habitat of particular concern. It is a terrific indicator of water quality. Eelgrass needs clean, clear water to grow, and this eelgrass bed is a poster child for good health!

You may see eelgrass (Zostera marina) at the water’s edge at low tide, when the tops of the blades can be seen floating at the surface.

Sometimes, we see eelgrass that has been ravaged by green crabs or made less healthy by too much nitrogen pollution—the same pollutant that causes nuisance algal blooms.

Trish’s post, besides being astoundingly beautiful, will help us compare healthy and less healthy eelgrass beds. Through our Baykeeping work, we advocate for solutions that lighten nitrogen loads to Casco Bay, and we are thinking hard about possible solutions to green crab degradation of eelgrass beds.

We thank Trish for her very active role as one of 229 Water Reporters who help us observe and track changes in and across Casco Bay. Trish has been a volunteer Water Reporter since February 2019. She has been taking photos all around the Bay, posting more than 100 observations about the Bay on the Water Reporter app since then.

“When I’m taking photos as a volunteer Water Reporter, it feels like I’m part photojournalist and part environmentalist!” says Trish. “By learning to identify things like algal blooms and eelgrass beds, I’m not only gaining a growing awareness of the marine environment, but also, in the larger picture, helping to improve the health of Casco Bay. In essence, Water Reporting has been fun, rewarding and educational. With the support of the staff at Friends of Casco Bay, it has been a good fit for me in retirement!”

If you are interested in becoming a Water Reporter like Trish, email Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman to find out how to get started.

Did you see this eelgrass post on Water Reporter from Angela (Angie) Brewer, Biologist III at Maine Department of Environmental Protection?

Angie posted a photo of an eelgrass blade shredded by a green crab and asked us to keep an eye out for similar damage.

She also asked fellow Water Reporters to keep an eye out for white brown discolorations or brown discolorations in the water around the Bay, especially in the Brunswick area. Please post photos on Water Reporter if you see these discolorations. Water Reporters can also comment on Angie’s post to update her on what you are seeing.