BAR HARBOR — An entire season of water quality testing in Frenchman Bay has shown that cruise ships are not polluting local waters.
The extensive testing, performed by Jane Disney’s Community Environmental Health Laboratory at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, found significantly elevated bacterial levels on just three occasions. Each instance was traced back to the presence of a particular fishing boat, or in one case, land runoff pollution following heavy rains.
“I know a lot of people in town have been concerned about discharges from cruise ships,” Disney said. “And, I don’t think they need to be.”
Disney, who as a town councilor for three years implored the town to take water testing around cruise ships seriously, laughed a bit with her statement, saying, “There, I finally said it.”
Disney, co-researchers Jirias Charabati and Anna Farrell, and a crew of volunteers sampled the water around cruise ships a total of 26 times last season while also taking seven control samples when no ships were at anchor. Tests searched primarily for fecal bacteria and oxygen content, along with salinity, nutrient counts, temperature, transparency and nitrogen. The water monitors were able to get close to many of the ships by riding out to anchorage spots with harbormaster Charlie Phippen in his town boat, Disney said. At other times when smaller ships were anchored at the town pier, water was sampled there.
Levels of fecal bacteria were found high at the town pier twice during the season. Though a cruise ship was anchored there one of those times, Disney said she did not think the ship was the source. Rather, a herring carrier from Columbia, Reliance, likely was to blame both times, Disney said. In fact, a fisherman reported seeing visible discharge from the boat on July 21, according to the report.
On another occasion of high bacterial levels on Oct. 17, there was a cruise ship anchored out in the harbor, but again, Disney and her crew did not think it was the source of the pollution. It was determined that 2.5 inches of rain that had fallen the preceding day caused bacteria to accumulate in Cromwell Brook and wash out to sea.
Disney’s report concluded that Bar Harbor’s harbor is in very good shape, and it encouraged the town to keep it so by continuing monitoring activities.
“Bar Harbor has excellent water quality. For the most part, visiting cruise ships and other vessels are adhering to harbor policy and holding all waste,” the report states. “We recommend that Bar Harbor continue to invest in a healthy future for the harbor by supporting water quality monitoring.”
Disney recommended considering a broader-based monitoring program, one that would focus on all types of vessels, land runoff and other potential sources of pollution.
“Keeping an eye on your shoreline tells you … that the quality of the water is what you expect it to be,” she said.