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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!