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What was your favorite Casco Bay moment of 2021?

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 2021. Here are our top ten stories of the year:

1) We crossed the finish line on our Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund. More than 700 Friends of the Bay contributed $1.5 million to the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund for Technology, Monitoring, and Community Engagement. These funds enabled us to launch two new Continuous Monitoring Stations in Casco Bay and will support the maintenance of all three of our stations for the next decade.

Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station
Mike deploys our Portland Harbor Continuous Monitoring Station

2) We launched two new Continuous Monitoring Stations. With the Climate Change and Casco Bay Fund completed, we launched two new Continuous Monitoring Stations in Casco Bay! This past spring, our new stations splashed down in Harpswell and Portland Harbor, and Staff Scientist Mike Doan walked us through their preliminary data.

3) We successfully advocated for forward-looking climate change legislation Augusta. We were thrilled to see Maine pass legislation to adapt our stormwater, land use, and planning laws to incorporate climate change projections, a top priority of Maine’s Climate Action Plan. Scores of Friends submitted testimony in support of “LD 1572 Resolve, To Analyze the Impact of Sea Level Rise.” If you were one of them, thank you!

4) We celebrated the career and contributions of Cathy Ramsdell. Our former Executive Director, Cathy Ramsdell, retired in September after 18 amazing years at the helm of Friends of Casco Bay. We hosted an outdoor celebration in honor of Cathy at Portland Yacht Services on August 26. At the event, staff and board members shared reflections on Cathy’s leadership and Gulf of Maine poet Gary Lawless read his poem, “For Casco Bay, for Us.

5) Water Reporter Rick Frantz revealed the impacts of erosion. We have all heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, but have you ever seen a photo that is worth 17 years? Volunteer Water Reporter Rick Frantz compared photos of Diamond Cove Beach from 2004 and 2021 to reveal the slow work of erosion over nearly two decades.

6) We supported many legislative victories for Maine’s environment and Casco Bay. Casco Bay will be cleaner and healthier, and our communities will be safer due to the many environmental victories passed in Augusta this year. Issues facing the Bay that are being addressed by new policies and laws include: sea level rise, expired marine flare disposal, changing eelgrass and salt marsh habitat, and public coastal access.

Volunteer Water Reporters and Friends of Casco Bay staff visited two Brunswick salt marshes in early September, where they shared observational insights and discussed local ecology.

7) Water Reporters documented an eelgrass mystery in Casco Bay. Volunteer Water Reporters observed an increase in torn and uprooted eelgrass in Casco Bay between August and September. Eelgrass is critically important to the health of the marine environment as it supports fisheries, maintains water quality, and acts as a carbon sink.

8) Staff Scientist Mike Doan showed us how phytoplankton affect the Bay. Many factors cause seasonal changes in Casco Bay. The activity of phytoplankton is one of them. Looking at data from our Continuous Monitoring Stations we see how these microscopic plants at the base of the marine food web can dramatically change the levels of acidity, oxygen, nutrient availability, and other factors in the Bay.

9) We monitored and supported cleanup efforts after an oil spill closed Willard Beach. It has been a rough few months for Willard Beach in South Portland. In addition to a sewer main break in October, Willard Beach was closed for three days at the end of August to accommodate cleanup efforts and protect public health from an oil spill. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca toured the site of the spill and commended the cleanup efforts led by state, local, and private agencies.

10) Water Reporters learned about oil spills and algal blooms from regional experts. Volunteer Water Reporters connected with regional experts from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Maine Department of Marine Resources in an illuminating discussion about identifying and reporting oil spills and algal blooms seen on Casco Bay.

We look forward to keeping you updated in the New Year. Thank you for being a Friend of 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!