Casco Bay’s extensive eelgrass meadows, productive mudflats, rocky intertidal areas, and fringing salt marshes provide critical habitat for many species of fish and wildlife while providing other benefits like flood absorption, nutrient removal, and resilience to climatic extremes.
Casco Bay is fed by numerous small coastal streams and a handful of larger rivers which deliver fresh water, sediments, nutrients, and other materials to the bay. These waterways also host diadromous fish (fish that migrate between the bay and fresh water bodies), delivering nutrients and a source of food to interior waters. The long-term health of Casco Bay depends on the continuation of these habitats as well as connectivity between aquatic habitats, to ensure that organisms are able to migrate, withstand climatic extremes and sea level rise, and maintain their populations in the face of stressors.
Historic and current human activities have degraded these habitats, and the impacts vary by ecosystem: eelgrass beds are vulnerable to excess nutrients and poor water clarity; dammed rivers create communities that more resemble a pond’s than a river’s; tidal flows into salt marshes have been blocked or diminished by the construction of roads, railroads, and dikes, starving marshes of critical sediment supplies; poorly maintained septic systems continue to contaminate shellfish beds and restrict shellfish harvesting.
Casco Bay Estuary Partnership (CBEP), working closely with partner organizations and local communities, allocates resources toward projects that result in the protection, restoration, and enhancement of aquatic habitats that sustain the Bay’s health. Focus areas include:
- Conserving significant coastal habitats and areas that protect water quality, such as river corridors, wetlands, and headwater forests. CBEP’s Habitat Protection Fund provides funding to land trusts, municipalities, and agencies for costs associated with land acquisition that results in the permanent protection of high value habitats. Typically, CBEP grants provide seed funding for larger grant proposals, for early project “risk money,” or assessment and transaction costs.
- Restoring and enhancing coastal habitats. CBEP can provide technical assistance, grant writing, small grants, and coordination to local communities and other partners for specific projects such as tidal restoration (culvert replacement) or eelgrass transplants that aim to restore or enhance high value coastal habitats. Often, project goals help both human and ecological communities become more resilient.
- Restoring aquatic habitat connectivity. Barriers such as dams and undersized culverts along streams and rivers often result in the fragmentation of these water bodies into isolated reaches. These barriers reduce or shut down river processes that provide for the movement of flood waters, fish and aquatic organisms, sediments, and wood through a watershed enroute to the Bay. CBEP works with partners to reestablish connections between aquatic habitat types, particularly where barriers restrict the movement of migratory fish such as river herring and shad.
- Piloting new methods of enhancing ecosystems. CBEP is working with partners to explore the use of locally available material such as recycled shell and wood to stabilize eroding shorelines, improve water quality, and maintain ecological processes where land meets the Bay. In 2020, Maine Geological Survey led a collaborative project with CBEP and other partners to pilot the use of “living shorelines” at sites in Brunswick and Yarmouth.
Casco Bay Estuary Partnership is a member of 1% for the Planet, a global network of businesses, non-profits, and individuals working together to make positive change for the environment. More than 3000 members of 1% for the Planet are coming together to protect the future of our planet.
For More Information
Contact Matt Craig, CBEP Habitat Program Manager, Matthew.Craig@maine.edu, (207) 228-8359.