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The More You NOAA: Encouraging Policy based on Research, Not Politics

A Conversation with Ivy Frignoca, the Casco Baykeeper

Friends of Casco Bay
Casco Baykeeper boat on the water at dawn © Friends of Casco Bay

As the Casco Baykeeper, Frignoca sums up her job as the “eyes, ears and voice of the bay.” When I ask her how she started on the path to becoming a marine advocate, she tells me that she just knew it was her calling, “I’ve always been a water person. I’ve just always been in, on and under the water.”

After stints in environmental education and conservation law, she’s grateful to have had many opportunities to develop and refine her abilities as an environmental advocate. “It’s a vocation,” she says to me, “It’s not a job.”

In March, Frignoca joined ocean advocates from across the country to let Congress know the important role the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plays for coastal health and why they should ensure funding remains strong for all of NOAA’s programs. I had a chance to talk to Frignoca about being the Casco Baykeeper and how partnering with NOAA has impacted her work.

Emi Okikawa: Could you talk a little bit more about your position as the Casco Baykeeper and what that entails?

Ivy Frignoca: My job as Casco Baykeeper is to be the lead advocate for Casco Bay. Our organization, Friends of Casco Bay, investigates and collects data to assess the overall health of the Bay and to focus more concentrated monitoring in areas where we have identified problems or potential problems. I use our data to support our advocacy. For example, our science informs our comments on Clean Water Act permits, our focus on legislative solutions, and where to concentrate volunteer efforts or public education efforts.

Okikawa: As Casco Baykeeper what are some of the projects that you’re currently working on?

Friends of Casco Bay
© Friends of Casco Bay
Frignoca: As Baykeeper my job is very varied. Here are some examples of current work. Right now I serve as the coordinator of the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification (MOCA) Partnership—it’s a volunteer network of scientists, advocates, nonprofit groups, legislators and fisherman from coastal Maine who work together to conduct research and find solutions to ocean acidification.

It’s a completely voluntary position. But since Sea Grant is a founding member of MOCA, NOAA funding has given us the opportunity to produce videos on ocean acidification, supported video conferencing capacities for us to put on webinars, designed and maintained our web page and has found funding for us to host seminars. We rely pretty strongly on Sea Grant’s expertise and resources to help us do outreach.

This time of year I also spend a lot of time in the field with our staff scientist and researchers from other organizations and institutions studying Casco Bay. I am working to reduce nutrient pollution and supporting efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Okikawa: How has NOAA supported your research endeavors?

Frignoca: While Friends of Casco Bay does not receive NOAA funding for our science and water quality work, NOAA’s offshore research is important to us. The NOAA data complements our research efforts and helps complete the picture. We monitor in the “nearshore” environment. NOAA collects data more offshore. The NOAA data complements our research efforts as we all work together to better understand the impacts of climate change on the Gulf of Maine and Casco Bay.

NOAA also has an Ocean Acidification (OA) Program and Sea Grant Program. We work with the OA Program by coordinating MOCA efforts within those of the Northeast Coastal Acidification Network (NECAN). MOCA is a voluntary state-level effort that follows the NECAN model, which operates on a regional level to address OA. Sea Grant hosts the MOCA web page, provides the technology for webinars and meetings, and serves as an integral part of the MOCA steering committee.

Okikawa: How else has NOAA supported/been critical to your work?

Frignoca: NOAA is an important funder of environmental education around the country. In 2010 we received a NOAA environmental education grant to update our Casco Bay Curriculum, an innovative educational tool that makes our scientific data accessible to elementary and middle-school students. Our staff delivers workshops to help teachers use the Curriculum in their classrooms.

Ivy Baykeeper Oct 2016
© Friends of Casco Bay
NOAA also is funding research to help Maine identify and track harmful algal blooms that shut down our valuable shellfish flats and aquaculture operations.  NOAA provided a significant portion of the funding that allowed Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to purchase and deploy Electronic Sampling Processors (ESPs) along the Maine Coast. An ESP is an advanced biological sensing system that collects and analyzes water samples; it’s like an automated mini lab at sea that works on its own. It detects harmful algae and sends the results to shore in near-real time via radio, satellite, or even a cellular modem.  From the end of April until mid-July, a NOAA-funded ESP was deployed near the mouth of Casco Bay. It collected and analyzed samples for red tide. It sent near real time data that helped inform when to close flats or take other measures to protect human health.

Okikawa: That’s awesome. So, you participated in a fly-in with Ocean Conservancy back in March. Why did you feel it was important to come to D.C. to talk to your representatives about NOAA?

Frignoca: The ocean defines a Maine way of life. So many of us make our living from the sea; more of us treasure it for recreation and solace. NOAA represents sound science and working to find solutions that threaten our Maine way of life. These threats include ocean acidification and other climate change impacts like rising sea levels, rising ocean temperatures, and shifting species. NOAA’s research helps ensure that public policy is informed by sound science NOT politics. That is why I went to Washington DC.

Okikawa: That’s heartening to hear! As someone from Maine, why is the ocean important to you personally?

Frignoca: I can’t think of a way that it’s not important to me. I can’t imagine life without a healthy ocean.

To see other stories about why NOAA funding is important click here.

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