Harbor water quality remains good

BAR HARBOR — A study conducted during the 2015 cruise ship season found excellent water quality in the harbor here and no significant problems attributable to the presence of the ocean-going vessels, researchers said.

“I have nothing to report but clean water this year,” Jane Disney, education director of the MDI Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) and a former councilor, told town councilors Tuesday. “I think people should feel pretty good, looking at the data, that we don’t have persistent problems.”

The town has funded water quality monitoring through its cruise ship passenger fees for several years.

Visiting ships must hold all waste while in the harbor, according to the town’s policy. A Maine law requires “large passenger vessels to have a permit for discharge of gray water or a mixture of gray and black water,” the report says, but no such permits have been issued. Ships also are expected to follow recommendations from the EPA and the Coast Guard regarding the discharge of wastewater.

Researchers tested temperature, bacteria (enterococcus), dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand, nutrients (phosphates and nitrates), chlorine, transparency, turbidity, salinity and phytoplankton.

The water in the harbor is very clear (low turbidity, high transparency), according to the report. “You can still stand on the town pier and look down and see starfish,” Disney told councilors.

The Maine Healthy Beaches program covered the cost of the bacterial analysis, she said. None of the samples taken in the study, even one unusually high one taken in August when Grand Caribe was docked at the Town Pier, exceeded an EPA-established safety level for swimming beaches.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources has several phytoplankton monitoring locations in the bay as part of their red-tide monitoring efforts, so MDIBL is familiar with which species are common in the Gulf of Maine. “There were no apparent nonnative (foreign) phytoplankton species that would be indicative of a ballast water exchange,” the report says.

The report recommends that the town continue to support water quality monitoring, “so that you would catch anything that would start to show a negative trend,” Disney said. “I don’t think the monitoring needs to focus on cruise ships in particular but should reflect an overall interest in good water quality throughout the harbor.” She recommended moving oversight for the testing program from the Cruise Ship Committee to the Marine Resources or Harbor committees to reflect that shift.

“I don’t think you should rest on your laurels after you’ve come this far,” she said. “I think the reputation of Bar Harbor for clean water is growing.” Cruise industry groups may share the report at future meetings.

This year’s study was designed to provide baseline data and included a control site in the harbor away from the two primary ship anchorages. With that baseline data in hand, future studies are likely to be less extensive and less costly.

Anna Ferrell, who has been working with Community Environmental Health Lab at MDIBL on this and other projects as an AmeriCorps volunteer, was recently hired full-time as program coordinator for the community lab.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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