Science by the Seaside

Posted on Mar 20, 2011

Darren McLellan, long-time volunteer for Friends of Casco Bay's water quality monitoring program, surveys his sampling site.

Darren McLellan, long-time volunteer for Friends of Casco Bay’s water quality monitoring program, surveys his sampling site.

On many Saturday mornings you’ll find Darren McLellan sipping a cup of coffee at one of his favorite spots, a beach in Cape Elizabeth called Peabbles Cove. By 7 a.m., it’s down to business. Just as dozens of other people are doing simultaneously, he opens his water quality test kit to start the work that will occupy him for the next hour: assessing the environmental health of Casco Bay.

 

Passersby often ask Darren what he is up to, standing knee-deep in the ocean. “I explain that I am one of dozens of people doing this right now all across the Bay. I liken it to all of us taking a picture of the Bay at the same moment. I point out that we are one of the oldest and largest volunteer groups doing this in the country.”

 

Darren tests the sea water for temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and pH (how acidic or basic the water is). He carefully records the information on a water-resistant data sheet. He’ll return at 3 p.m. to do the tests all over again.

 

Darren McLellan (left) is congratulated by Peter Milholland for 15 years as a Water Quality Monitor for Friends of Casco Bay. Peter, too, was recently recognized for his work with volunteers by the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment.

Darren McLellan (left) is congratulated by Peter Milholland for 15 years as a Water Quality Monitor for Friends of Casco Bay. Peter, too, was recently recognized for his work with volunteers by the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment.

Darren’s test site is not far from where he summered as a child. “My parents had to drag us off the beach at the end of the day. In a half-hour’s time, you could dig all the clams needed to feed 6 or 7 people. I remember many of my uncles and cousins lobstering. But I also remember most of the cottages along the shore dumping raw sewage into the water.”

 

Those memories – and “knowing I am doing something of value” – make it worth it to Darren to devote ten precious Saturdays a year to sampling the Bay. Plus, notes Darren, “It’s hard to beat a sunny summer morning or afternoon on the beach.”