Mary Cerullo, associate director of Friends of Casco Bay, is retiring after 22 years with the organization. Courtesy / Friends of Casco Bay

SOUTH PORTLAND — As the author of more than 20 science books, Mary Cerullo has swam with sharks, stingrays and dolphins and explored a sunken ship, all in the name of showing children and their parents the wonders of science.

Locally, Cerullo has for nearly 22 years educated the public about keeping Casco Bay healthy and vibrant as associate director of Friends of Casco Bay. She retired from that position last week.

“Mary’s ability to translate science into understandable, accessible concepts and with words people can relate to has really set the standard for our science communication at Friends of Casco Bay,” said Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell.

Friends of Casco Bay’s Mary Cerullo, in back, leads a workshop for teachers. Cerullo developed a curriculum that ties classrooms into what is happening on and in the bay. Courtesy / Friends of Casco Bay

Cerullo, a resident of North Yarmouth, said she never expected to be in the position, which combined advocacy work with community relations communications, for so long. But she loved the work.

“It’s been so gratifying to go home at the end of the day, even if it’s been frustrating day, knowing you are doing something you love,” she  said. “I’ve been an admirer of the ocean since I was 13 years old and I knew that is what I wanted to do.”

One thing she is most proud of during her tenure is her work in 2002 to organize a cruise ship forum. That forum led to Casco Bay being declared a federal No Discharge Area that prohibited cruise ships from emptying their wastewater in the bay to curb bacterial contamination of the water. Casco Bay was the first place in Maine to hold such a distinction.

“Last year, 100 cruise ships came into Portland Harbor. Imagine if they were legally allowed to dump their waste into Casco Bay. With all cruise ships coming into Casco Bay over the years, it has certainly led to less pollution,” said Will Everitt, communications and development director for Friends of Casco Bay.

She’s also proud of her work with the BayScaping and Casco Bay Curriculum programs. The BayScaping program, launched in the early 2000s, urged residents, businesses and, later, municipalities, to avoid using pesticides and fertilizers on their lawns to reduce runoff into the bay. The curriculum program since 2006 has connected  classrooms to what is happening in the waters of Casco Bay.

Cerullo said she decided to create the curriculum because she knew Friends of Casco Bay had a lot of data, such as information on water quality, that could help schools teach students about the world around them.

Everitt said the data was always available to the public, but Cerullo made it accessible to teachers and students in the region.
” The Casco Bay Curriculum makes it easy for teachers to incorporate real, local data into their classroom activities,” he said.

Ramsdell said Cerullo has been a critical part of the organization’s approach to working with the community to solve issues with Casco Bay.

“Our ethos at Friends of Casco Bay is to use a ‘work with’ approach to bring science to the community and work with the community to address issues. Mary is such an example of that approach,” Ramsdell said.

In her retirement, Cerullo will be devote more time to her science writing, something she has done since the early 1990s.

In the past, Cerullo has conducted research for her many books by getting up close with sharks and other sea creatures. Many of her books have centered on sharks due to a partnership with Jeff Rotman, a New Jersey underwater photographer who specializes in them.

While her books on sharks have been a hit, Cerullo said her most popular book is “Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster,” which she wrote with Smithsonian zoologist Clyde Roper that was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2013 by the National Science Teachers Association & Children’s Book Council.

Cerullo always includes a list of additional resources for readers.

“We really need to work towards a more science-literate society,” she said.

Ramsdell said Cerullo has some pretty big shoes for the next associate director to fill.

“We are going to have a very hard time replacing Mary. It won’t be easy. We will have to reinvent the job,” she said.

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