Skip to Main Content

Women Mind the Water Podcast Series: Ivy Frignoca, Maine

As told by Ivy Frignoca
Portland, Maine

Story Narrative:

Ivy leans over the side of a boat and pulls in a line with an orange net on the bottom.

Submitted as part of the Women Mind the Water (WMW) digital stories project produced by Pam Ferris-Olson, in conjunction with Stories from Main Street and the traveling exhibition "Water/Ways." This story is one in a series created for a podcast in 2020-21, featuring regional and international artists whose inspiration blends conversation, activism, science, and water. Find earlier stories from the WMW initiative by searching for "Women Mind the Water" on this website.

Ivy Frignoca, Casco Baykeeper for the South-Portland Maine nonprofit Friends of Casco Bay, is not herself an artivist but she is an activist. She helps to oversee a photographic documentation program that is citizen science as an art form. Volunteers use their smartphones to provide visual images that document pollution, sea level rise, algal growth, and erosion events along Casco Bay.

Ivy Frignoca (00:00): I can hear you. Can you hear me?

Pamela Ferris-Olson (00:01): I can hear you too.

Ivy Frignoca (00:03): Excellent.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (00:05): Today on the Women Mind the Water podcast, I'm speaking with Ivy Frignoca. Ivy is the Casco Baykeeper for the South Portland name nonprofit Friends of Casco Bay. In her capacity is Baykeeper. Ivy is a full-time advocate for Casco Bay. One way she keeps track of the bay is through core volunteers who use smartphones to document change. The Women Mind the Water podcast engages artists and conversation about their work and explores their connection with the ocean. Through their stories, Women Mind the Water hopes to inspire and encourage action to protect the ocean and her creatures.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (00:45): Today, Women Mind the Water is speaking with a guest who's not herself, an artivist, but she is an activist. Ivy describes herself as the eyes, ears, and voice for Casco Bay, a body of water in the Portland main area. Women Mind the Water is pleased to welcome Ivy Frignoca to the podcast. Among her organization's many activities, Friends of Casco Bay sponsors a program known as water reporters. This group of volunteers uses their smartphones to photograph Casco Bay in order to document pollution and various aspects of climate change. Welcome, Ivy. Thank you for agreeing to be on the Women Mind the Water Podcast. I'm really looking forward to learning more about Friends of Casco Bay and the water reporter program. I'd like to begin by asking you to tell me a bit about how you came to care about the ocean.

Ivy Frignoca (01:41): Well, first, thank you so much for inviting me to be your guest. Although I am not directly an artist, the bay that I represent is certainly a work of art, and it's wonderful that you do so much to highlight the work of so many women from all different backgrounds who love and work to protect the water. So thank you for having me.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (02:08): Thank you.

Ivy Frignoca (02:10): Your first question was about how my love of the ocean led to my interest in becoming a Baykeeper right.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (02:16): Right.

Ivy Frignoca (02:19): Oh, that is such a large question. So probably a lot of the other women you have spoken with, I've always been drawn to the water, and it's where I go for sustenance, solace, and joy and fulfillment. And so, I always knew that it was my element. And as I got older, and was thinking about college and what I wanted to do with my life. I tried to imagine if I could be the person who wasn't the scientist, who wasn't the person who studied water quality, or how things were changing. But if I could understand and translate the science into action to get myself and other people to act based on the science to protect bodies of water. And I started my research and that kind of work on Lake Champlain in Vermont.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (03:26): Okay. So can you tell me what a Baykeeper does?

Ivy Frignoca (03:30): Yes. So Baykeeper is one of many different kinds of water keepers. There's river keepers, lake keepers, so forth. And what we do is we are responsible for our body of water. So there's about 350 of us around the world, and we speak on behalf of our body of water. So for people familiar with Dr. Suess, I am like the Lorax for Casco Bay, and it's a lead champion, and do what I can to improve and protect the bay.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (04:10): Where did the idea for the water reporter program originate, and why was it something that Friends of Casco Bay thought would be useful for the organization?

Ivy Frignoca (04:20): Okay. So those are two different questions. The first question where it originated was outside of Friends of Casco Bay. So we, as a bay-keeping organization, are a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance. And that is that network of about 350 of us around the world who represent certain bodies of water. And the water reporter app and Waterkeeper Alliance worked together to facilitate and foster use of this new app that was developed. So we adopted it in 2018, and at the time, we were testing other apps too that give us useful information that would help us improve and protect the bay.

Ivy Frignoca (05:12): So your second question, why did we choose that app? So our organization is Friends of Casco Bay, and when the organization started 30 ago, it was primarily a network of volunteers. And so, originally, most of our work was done by volunteers. We had volunteer water quality monitors who worked with then Baykeeper Joe Peen and a few other staff people as the staff began to grow. And they get a good handle on what the health of the bay was by collecting data at a similar spot. People were assigned different locations from April to October.

Ivy Frignoca (05:55): And that data set we still build upon, but we knew that we had to just as Casco Bay is changing in response to climate change, that that data that we're collecting had to change in advance, but we have all these wonderful volunteers. So we were looking for what information do we need? What data do we need that we can't collect on our own, but with our network of volunteers, we could get that would help us do our job. And that's how we came up with water reporter. These are people who are collecting observational data a lot on the effects of either pollution or climate change around the bay. And with that observational data, we then know where to go out in the field, or it helps us really hone in on areas and document results so that we can act to protect the bay.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (06:55): So how much effort goes into overseeing the program? For example, how much training do the volunteers need?

Ivy Frignoca (07:06): Someone could get started as easily as having a smartphone and signing up for the app without any training. And that was during the first year, the training was primarily on how to do a post and then because our volunteers are the wonderful people they are that help us so much. They started coming to us with questions, like, how do I tell the difference between eelgrass and salt marsh? And how do I know if the sheen is just a natural breakdown of biological material or if it's an oil spill? And so we then started providing training on specific topics for our volunteers. So you can have as little or as much training as you would like and observe in whatever way you want to.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (07:57): Okay. So it sounds like a relatively new program. I think you said 2018, so that's [crosstalk 00:08:05].

Ivy Frignoca (08:04): Yes.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (08:05): About three years. And in that three years, what sort of information have you obtained?

Ivy Frignoca (08:13): One of the first very important things that the water reporters did was we were trying as a staff to document nuisance algal blooms in the nearshore area. And nuisance algal blooms are those big green mats of algae that grow and some other clam flats when there's too much nitrogen loading to a particular nearshore area of the bay. And just between Mike and me trying to get everywhere at low tide, it was just not possible. It's a big bay with a lot of nooks and crannies. We had some data from various locations, and our water reporters took that over and really began honing in on sections of the bay for us and documenting the algal blooms over the course of the summer. And so, with their help, with that, I was able to use their photo documentation to get certain codes of Casco Bay listed on a nonpoint source priority list so that they can get funding to be cleaned up. So that was one of the earliest successes.

Ivy Frignoca (09:18): Sometimes we've had reports of pollution that we are then able to turn over to proper officials and get those investigated and get the problem taken care of. More recently, I would say that the water reporters have really helped us start to document erosion and examples of sea-level rise and the other kinds of changes that we need to track over time so that we can see where Casco Bay is most impacted by climate change and help identify ways to make it resilient.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (09:55): Can you tell me about one of the more interesting photos you've received and how you have used it?

Ivy Frignoca (10:05): Oh, they're all interesting. And some of them, since you do focus on arts, some of them are just gorgeous. And so I'm going to take a moment to talk about one of beauty. And there was a post; I believe it was last summer from Trish Peterson out by Jewell Island. And she captured this eelgrass bed. That was the poster child for what I wish all eelgrass beds could look like. It was so healthy and beautiful and just waving in this clear water. And it was just a magnificent post that I see in my mind. And it's such a great reference photo for it. This is what eelgrass should be if it's healthy and unpolluted, and unravaged by green crabs. So that was one of my favorites.

Ivy Frignoca (11:04): Another telling post example was one of our water reporters out on, and I'm doing this just off the top of my head. So I want you [crosstalk 00:11:13].

Pamela Ferris-Olson (11:12): That's fine.

Ivy Frignoca (11:12): To know that they're all great. I go to the app frequently to go through and see what people are seeing around the bay. I should also mention that we do a post of the month, and I think those are recorded on our webpage now. Every month we're looking at something that highlights something going on at that particular time in the bay. So one another example I was going to highlight to you is a post from Great Diamond Island.

Ivy Frignoca (11:46): And what I really recall about this one is this was a documentation of erosion over time caused by changing storm events. And it was by a person who had happened to have an older photo of the beach from before we started water reporter and then documented what it looks like now. And you could really see the change. And that's exactly what we're hoping that this app does is that photos that people take now that area might be completely different in two or three years if we have a major storm or sea level continues to rise. So, maybe you wouldn't see sea-level rise sort of that quickly, but it documented the changes over time in such a great way that the picture is worth a thousand words kind of way.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (12:46): So you look at algal blooms and erosion, any other aspects?

Ivy Frignoca (12:53): Yes. Sea level rise, we've had sheens, we've had people documenting wildlife when there was the great white shark attack last summer, there were posts with seals that had been attacked by sharks as well. It's really anything related to the health of the bay. And then, because the bay is also so beautiful, there are also images that are just beautiful, whether they're birds diving, or like I said, that eelgrass post was just, it was a [crosstalk 00:13:43] water reporter.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (13:44): So the baseline data, as well as just something that makes you feel good.

Ivy Frignoca (13:47): Yes. I think, when we're dealing with climate change and this level of crisis, you need to feel good too.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (13:55): Right.

Ivy Frignoca (13:56): You need to have those reminders of why we do this.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (14:00): So in the six years you've served as Baykeeper, what changes have you noticed in the bay?

Ivy Frignoca (14:05): By changes, do you just mean anything?

Pamela Ferris-Olson (14:15): Yeah.

Ivy Frignoca (14:16): Okay. So six years in observational terms is still a fairly short time. So I think what's happened during that time we continue to see water temperature going up and that our winters, the water temperature in the winters is warmer. So we're seeing that as a definite continued change in the bay, that is having consequences that we don't fully know yet what it means. We've seen things much more drought over the summer periods. Well, July was not a drought, but overall there have been more periods of drought. So this summer, the bay is saltier than usual, even with all the rain in July, which is interesting. During the course of my tenure, we went to continuous monitoring, which means we have stations in the bay that collect data every hour of every day.

Ivy Frignoca (15:26): Two of those stations have been in less than a year, but the first station is in its sixth season. And we're beginning to get long enough data set to understand more about bay dynamics, more about ocean acidification and the potential consequences of that and how the other factors like warming waters and such the complications that all of that has when you look at it together. That's what we're seeing. That's some of what we're seeing on the waterside. There's some shifts in species that we observe. We definitely saw more nuisance algal blooms in the nearshore than we used to see. I think really what I can say is from what we observe, things are changing fast. And taking this into the baykeeping role, we need to act as best we can with what we know, making projections into the future. And we need to be nimble and adaptive so that as things continue to change, we can continue to change how we help the bay adapt to climate change.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (16:47): Okay. Do you think these changes are unique to Casco Bay? Are they representative of bigger changes extending beyond Maines coast?

Ivy Frignoca (16:57): These changes are... The ocean is changing fundamentally in response to climate change, and what's happening in Casco Bay will share some characteristics of what's happening more globally and, in some ways, will be different. For example, the impacts of climate change are in Casco Bay may be different than down east in Maine because the water's still colder. The shoreline is different. So yes, everywhere is experiencing the impacts of climate change, and everywhere is changing and sharing some characteristics of the problem, warming temperatures, changing circulation patterns, rising sea level, changing weather patterns, all of those things have aspect acidification.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (17:53): So I'd like to end by asking if you were to offer three key things that concern you about the state of the ocean in general and then suggest ways that individuals can help improve the conditions.

Ivy Frignoca (18:09): This is such a big question, and it's such a daunting question in some ways. And I almost feel like I just want to step back from the question and say that I think really the biggest thing we need to do is think beyond ourselves and think collectively. We're a world of people, and we also are connected to our ocean, and it's the environment that we go to for sustenance, and so much other life depends upon. And this isn't exactly answering your question, but it's what we need to do. The solutions are bigger than Casco Bay. They're bigger than what Friends of Casco Bay can do. They take a world, and it would be in my fantasy world; we would put aside politics, we would put aside anger. We would all recognize that there's a problem and roll up our sleeves and listen to one another and figure this out. We made this mess; we can fix it.

Pamela Ferris-Olson (19:14): I wish I had the magic wand to wave and say. And so would Shelby. Thank you, Ivy, for sharing that. So I've been speaking with Ivy Frignoca and the Women Mind the Water Artivist series podcast. Ivy, thanks again for talking to us about the nonprofits, Friends of Casco Bay, and specifically the water program known as water reporter. It's a program that uses smartphone photographs to document changes along Casco Bay and Maine. The Women mind the Water Artivist podcast series can be viewed on And audio version of this podcast is available on the Women Mind the Water website, on iTunes, and also on Spotify, Stitcher, and Google podcast. Women Mind the Water is grateful to Jane Rice for the song, Women of Water, all rights for the Women Mind the Water name and logo belong to Pam Ferris-Olsen. This is Pam Ferris-Olsen; thank you for listening.

Asset ID: 2021.02.26
Themes: Activism, volunteers, citizen science, ocean, bay, water keeper alliance, policy, technology, climate change, pollution, algae, clams, erosion, eelgrass, seals, Great White Sharks, drought, ocean acification
Date recorded: October 8, 2021
Length of recording: 19:45 m
Related traveling exhibition: Water/Ways
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Women Mind the Water
More information

Media Files: