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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!