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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.

April 2020 Water Reporter Post of The Month

Did the town planners mean for you to get your feet wet when sitting on this granite bench at Falmouth Town Landing? Probably not.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Judith Fergin’s Water Reporter post has a lot to say about sea level rise.

Judith took the photo in April during an astronomical high tide. Such high tides can help us spot areas that are vulnerable to rising seas.

“The Town Landing part of Casco Bay has always been an important part of my life. The bench in the photo used to not look so isolated,” reported Judith. “At high tide, you could see a lot more of the rock it sits on and you could always see at least a bit of the lower rock next to it. Over the years, it seems like those rocks have shrunk as waters have risen. Now the bench is almost surrounded and its neighboring rock is submerged so you cannot see it at high tide at all.”

When you build something out of granite you are planning for it to last generations. It is unlikely that the bench in Judith’s photo will last as long as hoped. Maine geologists are planning for a three to five foot sea level rise along the coast over the next 100 years. More importantly, sea level rise and storm surges threaten much of the infrastructure — the homes, roads, and water treatment plants — we have built near the ocean.

While this tide was a naturally occurring event due to the gravitational effects of the Earth, Sun, and Moon, exacerbated by the amount of sea level rise we already are experiencing, Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteer Water Reporters are taking photos like this one to help us envision what sea level rise will look like in the future. We are using these observations as we work with local, regional, and state officials to assess and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Judith has posted more than 20 Water Reporter observations since she began volunteering. “I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in a fact-based and science-based endeavor to record how, as a community and a society, we are affecting the environment,” she reflected. “We need to do all we can to address climate change.”

If you are interested in joining us as a volunteer Water Reporter, check out our website for more information or email Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman.

Warm winter = early algal blooms

On March 3rd, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca strolled the South Portland shoreline near our office. She was shocked to see green algae growing at the base of the Spring Point seawall. In the past, we have not begun to see widespread nuisance algal blooms until late May or early June. Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman issued an alert to our observing network. Soon, our volunteer Water Reporters were posting images of green algal blooms in coves around the Bay.

What could be fueling these algal blooms so early in the year? Staff Scientist Mike Doan searched for answers by looking at our water quality data. At our Continuous Monitoring Station, the bright green growth did not correspond to a spike in chlorophyll levels, normally associated with a phytoplankton bloom. Our data did show that we have had an extremely warm winter. Heavy rains may have flushed nutrient-laden meltwater into coastal waters weeks earlier than in past years. In fact, just a few days prior to Ivy’s sighting in South Portland, we had an intense rain event. Lengthening daylight and warming temperatures also likely contributed to the emergence of these blooms.

Sarah encourages more people to volunteer as Water Reporters to track these early indicators of excess nitrogen. “Each volunteer can adopt a specific location around the Bay to observe weekly, ideally at low tide, any time between an hour before and after. Images of algae from ‘good’ amounts to ‘concerning’ amounts are helpful because we can’t predict where and when a small patch of algae may become a nuisance algal bloom.”

The blooms we have seen this month are small, but excess nitrogen can stimulate algal growth beyond healthy amounts for the ecosystem. Nuisance algal blooms can cover tidal flats with a thick carpet of “green slime,” smothering animals below the mat and preventing juvenile clams from settling into the mud.

If you are interested in joining our effort to track these blooms, learn more at cascobay.org/water-reporter or call Sarah at (207) 370-7553.

March 2020 Water Reporter Post of the Month

While you are advised to remain socially distant from other people, you don’t need to stay socially distant from Casco Bay! We encourage you to get outside and stroll by the waterfront, a beach, or rocky shore. While you are out there, keep an eye out for pollution, nuisance algal blooms, and streets and properties that are flooding during high tides. Become a Water Reporter and document what you see on your smartphone. Not only will you be helping the Bay, you will also be part of a cadre of 199 volunteers documenting evidence of a changing Casco Bay.

One of those volunteers in Friends of Casco Bay’s observing network is Rick Frantz. Rick had just stepped off the Diamond Island ferry when he spied construction debris floating between the Casco Bay Lines pier and Maine Wharf. Workmen shoring up supports under one of Portland’s many piers had neglected to contain the boards, piling ends, and other debris from the construction project. Recent law has stated that construction workers can also hire lawyers for construction accidents as they can help you legally in suing the employer for the injuries sustained. Rick first noticed the flotsam at 9 am; when he returned at noon, the amount of rubble in the water had increased. He used his smartphone to post an image and comment on our Water Reporter volunteer observing network. For any sorts of emergencies, visit Bengal Law homepage to get the nearest help as soon as possible.

After seeing Rick’s post, Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman alerted the Harbor Master and the Coast Guard. At 1:37 pm, Sarah posted that a containment boom was in place and the debris in the water had been removed.

Good eye, Rick! For his swift reporting and for this positive outcome, we are making his post our inaugural Water Reporter Post of the Month.

By using the Water Reporter smartphone app, a keen-eyed observer with a few minutes to spare can have a significant, immediate, and positive impact on Casco Bay. In addition to reporting pollution, as Rick did, our volunteers are also tracking the growth of nuisance algal blooms, documenting wildlife, and capturing images of flooded waterfronts that portend the impact of continuing sea level rise.

You can join our Water Reporter network to share observations of things you are seeing on the Bay, both good and bad, all year long. The more of us who keep watch on the health of the Bay, the better protected our waters will be.