SOUTH PORTLAND — Since it was founded 30 years ago, Friends of Casco Bay has found it takes a community to properly monitor and care for Casco Bay.

“We can’t be everywhere at once and we can’t see everything,” said Sarah Lyman, Friends of Casco Bay’s community engagement coordinator.

One of the key ways the organization is relying on citizen scientists to be its eyes and ears is through the Water Reporter, an application that allows members of the public to post photos  of what they see on Casco Bay, from Cape Elizabeth to Phippsburg.

“With more and more people coming to the region every year, and rapidly changing conditions due to climate change, the app is the perfect vehicle for volunteers to use to act as more eyes on the water,” said Cathy Ramsdell, executive director of Friends of Casco Bay.

While Friends of Casco Bay has a strong Water Reporter contingent of about 130 users, Lyman said they are always looking for more.

The Friends of Casco Bay will hold a volunteer training session from 5-6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at Joe’s Dockhouse at Spring Point Marina.

The event will focus on what sort of posts Friends of Casco Bay are looking for and how to use the application.

The Water Reporter app, available at cascobay.org/water-reporter, was launched as a pilot program in July 2018.

“We’ll be celebrating our 30th this year and in all that time we have gotten information about what people are seeing in the watershed, sometimes through phone calls, sometimes through emails, sometimes social media,” Lyman said. “What this does is get the majority of observations and information people have come in in a uniform way, which allows us to address it in a uniform way.”

Rick Frantz, co-owner of Andy’s Old Port Pub, is one of the more dedicated Water Reporter users, often taking images of what he sees as he makes his way from his home on Great Diamond Island and his Commercial Street restaurant.

“It’s fun for people like me, yet also very beneficial for (Friends of Casco Bay),” Frantz said.

Frantz and his wife Jennifer Fox are big supporters of the work Friends of Casco Bay does to keep the bay healthy.

“When you live on an island, you are surrounded by the bay. It is vital for us,” he said.

Erin Hoffman, a data science and communications lead for Chesapeake Commons, which created the Water Reporter app through a partnership with Waterkeeper Alliance, said Friends of Casco Bay “is one of our most active groups in terms of members, number of posts and ongoing efforts.”

According to Friends of Casco Bay, the observances of Frantz and other Water Reporters “provide a better understanding of conditions in Casco Bay.” In general users are encouraged to contribute a photograph when they see wildlife, algae blooms, trash and pollution, erosion and sea level rise. Each submission is time stamped and displayed on a map of Casco Bay.

Lyman said there have already been cases where the Water Reporter app has led to swift action by marine groups. Last year, after a lot of dead seals were being reported through the app, Friends of Casco Bay reached out to marine animal groups to investigate. A post by Casco Bay Keeper Ivy Frignoca regarding an algae bloom outbreak in Yarmouth caught the attention of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection even before she had a chance to call the state agency. Frantz took a picture of an accumulation of fish scales last year behind Harbor Fish Market on the Portland waterfront, prompting the DEP to halt an illegal discharge off a nearby vessel.

“The bay is such a special place. So many people live here because of Casco Bay. (Water Reporter) enhances our work and I think the community by having a lot of people keeping an eye on it,” Lyman said.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter:@mkelleynews

Sarah Lyman, Friends of Casco Bay community engagement coordinator, files a report through the Water Reporter app just outside the organization’s headquarters on the campus of Southern Maine Community College. Friends of Casco Bay will be holding a training session on the app Monday, June 24.


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