Friends helping Friends

Posted on Nov 13, 2015

The view from Nan and Jeanie's Water Quality Monitoring Site. Photo by Kevin Morris

The view from Nan and Jeanie’s Water Quality Monitoring Site. Photo by Kevin Morris

In April 2009, Nan Bragg and Jeanie Wester met for their first water quality sampling weekend at a site in Cumberland. Before they could open their new water quality testing kit, they realized they wouldn’t need their Secchi disk to measure water depth and clarity. The water was less than six inches deep, and their testing site was rapidly becoming a mudflat as the tide receded. They laughed and alerted Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland, who took their suggestion for a new sampling location, one that both women knew well: the Chebeague Island ferry landing on Cousins Island. Jeanie lives a short distance from the dock. As a child, Nan had summered on Cousins Island in Yarmouth before settling in Maine years later.

The Cousins Island site had its own challenges. One morning at high tide, Nan’s cell phone fell out of her pocket, bounced across the float, and plopped into the water. Undaunted, when they returned for their second sampling event later that afternoon, Nan dove into the now shallower water and surfaced with two cell phones.

Jeanie Wester began her professional life as a laboratory chemist. Like many people, she found that science and music are complementary pursuits. She now teaches viola, violin, and piano and performs with symphony and chamber orchestras.

Nan Bragg majored in anthropology and geography, and immediately after college she worked for an environmental planning and design firm. Though chemistry was not included in her studies, she says, “To be a water quality monitor, you don’t need experience, just an interest. The training is thorough. The manual is so clear that I had no trouble learning how to sample for all the parameters we measure. Plus, there is an emergency help line if I really need it!”

This past season, 95 citizen scientists have been sampling all around Casco Bay. Citizen Stewards Coordinator Peter Milholland realizes that summer is short in Maine. He tries to make sure that each of the 35 water quality monitoring stations has several monitors, including backup volunteers and summer interns, who can cover sampling twice a day – 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. – on ten selected Saturdays from April through October. Peter says, “Our water quality monitors truly are connected to the Bay, tracking its changes from month to month, season to season.” If you’d like to see how our volunteers’ data is used to create our Health Index, request a copy of our report A Changing Casco Bay or go online to cascobay.org/health-index.

The women love their water testing site, which is usually abuzz with people waiting for the Chebeague Island ferry, fishing from the dock, or heading to their boats. Everyone asks them how the Bay is doing. Nan and Jeanie comment that people seem to have become more interested in the health of the Bay in recent years.

Their friendship has deepened over the past seven years, as has their volunteering for Friends in other capacities. They frequently visit the South Portland office of Friends of Casco
Bay to help assemble membership mailings. True to their upbeat nature, they don’t regard the hours of folding, stuffing, and stamping solicitation letters as tedious. They agree, “It’s not about the envelopes; it’s that we get to sit around the table and share stories with other volunteers who care about the environment. It’s another way we feel connected to the Bay.” As Nan remarks, “I grew up boating, swimming, and eating seafood, and I wanted to do something to help protect the Bay.”

Peter Milholland sees that attitude in all our volunteers. “The best thing about working with our volunteers is seeing how dedicated they are. From their Saturdays collecting water samples or spending time at our office stuffing envelopes, they are giving back to this Bay that provides so much for all of us.”