Portland Forecaster 

March 31, 2020


Longtime Casco Bay science educator retires

Mary Cerullo ‘set the standard for science communication’ at Friends of Casco Bay.


Mary Cerullo, associate director of Friends of Casco Bay, is retiring after 22 years with the organization.

SOUTH PORTLAND — As an author of more than 20 science books, Mary Cerullo has swam with sharks, stingrays and dolphins and explored a sunken ship, all in the name of showing children and their parents the wonders of science.

Locally, Cerullo has for nearly 22 years educated the public about keeping Casco Bay healthy and vibrant as associate director of Friends of Casco Bay. She retired from that position last week.

“Mary’s ability to translate science into understandable, accessible concepts and with words people can relate to has really set the standard for our science communication at Friends of Casco Bay,” said Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell.


Friends of Casco Bay’s Mary Cerullo, in back, leads a workshop for teachers. Cerullo developed a curriculum that ties classrooms into what is happening on and in the bay.

Cerullo, a resident of North Yarmouth, said she never expected to be in the position, which combined advocacy work with community relations communications, for so long. But she loved the work. “It’s been so gratifying to go home at the end of the day, even if it’s been frustrating day, knowing you are doing something you love,” she said. “I’ve been an admirer of the ocean since I was 13 years old and I knew that is what I wanted to do.”

One thing she is most proud of during her tenure is her work in 2002 to organize a cruise ship forum. That forum led to Casco Bay being declared a federal No Discharge Area that prohibited cruise ships from emptying their wastewater in the bay to curb bacterial contamination of the water. Casco Bay was the first place in Maine to hold such a distinction.

“Last year, 100 cruise ships came into Portland Harbor. Imagine if they were legally allowed to dump their waste into Casco Bay. With all cruise ships coming into Casco Bay over the years, it has certainly led to less pollution,” said Will Everitt, communications and development director for Friends of Casco Bay.

She’s also proud of her work with the BayScaping and Casco Bay Curriculum programs. The BayScaping program, launched in the early 2000s, urged residents, businesses and, later, municipalities, to avoid using pesticides and fertilizers on their lawns to reduce runoff into the bay. The curriculum program since 2006 has connected classrooms to what is happening in the waters of Casco Bay.

Cerullo said she decided to create the curriculum because she knew Friends of Casco Bay had a lot of data, such as information on water quality, that could help schools teach students about the world around them. Everitt said the data was always available to the public, but Cerullo made it accessible to teachers and students in the region. “The Casco Bay Curriculum makes it easy for teachers to incorporate real, local data into their classroom activities,” he said.

Ramsdell said Cerullo has been a critical part of the organization’s approach to working with the community to solve issues with Casco Bay. “Our ethos at Friends of Casco Bay is to use a ‘work with’ approach to bring science to the community and work with the community to address issues. Mary is such an example of that approach,” Ramsdell said.

In her retirement, Cerullo will devote more time to her science writing, something she has done since the early 1990s. In the past, Cerullo has conducted research for her many books by getting up close with sharks and other sea creatures. Many of her books have centered on sharks due to a partnership with Jeff Rotman, a New Jersey underwater photographer who specializes in them.

While her books on sharks have been a hit, Cerullo said her most popular book is “Giant Squid: Searching for a Sea Monster,” which she wrote with Smithsonian zoologist Clyde Roper that was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2013 by the National Science Teachers Association & Children’s Book Council. Cerullo always includes a list of additional resources for readers. “We really need to work towards a more science-literate society,” she said.

Ramsdell said Cerullo has some pretty big shoes for the next staff member to fill. “We are going to have a very hard time replacing Mary. It won’t be easy. We will have to reinvent the job.”

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Teaching and Learning

1.15.20 OTES 1
Doing an author visit to a school is as much about teaching and learning for me as it is for the students. When I encounter such engaged audiences as I had with Old Town Elementary School, I can see how well their librarians and teachers have prepared the students before I visit. They have shared my books and assigned writing projects or questions to ask. Some of those questions can be quite challenging! And, of course, at the end of my presentations, students get to share their own stories. Many of those would make topics for their own tales.

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Signs of hope

Here are the first blossoms in my yard, today, Easter Sunday. And to think these crocuses were under 6 inches of snow on Thursday.
This haiku truly describes Maine in spring:
rivulets racing through
sun-sparkle fading snow-crust
crocuses poking

I found this message taped to my mailbox by a young neighbor. It says HOPE even better:
Thank you. Wash your hands a lot. Do not worry. We’re all in this together.

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Life in the slow lane—but not underground

Maybe there is not much going on in your home right now, but there is a lot happening underground. I installed an app that reports on earthquake and volcanic activity, worldwide, every day. As I work on edits for “Volcano, Where Fire and Water Meet,” these daily notices remind me how active our planet is.


My first helicopter ride, Hawaii, January 2019


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Being creative when your home is your school

I saw a mention of using writing prompts to inspire kids who are home schooling now. A few that I’ve used with students are:

Write a “graphic label” that describes an animal in an aquarium or a zoo in 30 words or less. Make it interesting!

Make a list of questions you would use to “interview” a sea creature or a scientist who is studying your favorite animal.

Invent an animal. Describe its habitat and adaptations for survival (for getting food and avoiding becoming someone else’s food). Draw a picture of it. You might want to give it a common and a scientific name.

Write and illustrate a story about a sea creature’s adventures, like this one that my daughter and her friend wrote in fifth grade. (In this case, the hero is a leaf.) Bonus points: write a dedication to your patient parents (or teacher)!  img003

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Won’t you be my neighbor?

Just ask the third graders at Great Salt Bay School in Damariscotta. Each student chooses a local sea creature to study for their unit on “Oyster Neighbors.” At the end of the year, their reports on estuarine animals are assembled into a printed book, making them all authors of a very special field guide. This is the 11th year I helped kick off the unit. After giving an overview of my book writing process—emphasizing the importance of that first “grabber” sentence—I met with individual students, like Allie, below. Together, we brainstormed about special features of their animal that might grab a reader’s attention.

At the end of the day, all the third grades got together again for a lively game of Ocean Jeopardy! Another chance to share quirks about my favorite sea beasts.

Allie the Aspiring Author at GSBS

Consulting with aspiring author Allie

Thanks for a great day with all these budding authors!


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A teacher turned dolphin trainer—for a few minutes

Bowdoin central -Ms Rice

I had a great day with the all the students at Bowdoin Central School talking about my writing process and the sea creatures I’ve encountered. After a schoolwide assembly in the gym, I visited with the students in second through fifth grades and shared lunch with 20 kindergarteners and first graders. Favorite parts of the day: hearing students’ ideas for great opening lines for their own books, seeing how well prepared they were through their questions and observations, and turning second-grade teacher Ms. Rice into a dolphin trainer. One student’s mother said her daughter now wants to be a marine biologist! (And a writer, I hope!)

Letter from Bowdoin Central School

Second grader Iris proved my point that books need writers and artists!

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