YARMOUTH, Maine (AP) — For 22 years, Joe Payne has patrolled the waters of Casco Bay, improving water quality, restoring clam flats, protecting young lobsters and mobilizing oil spill cleanup efforts.
This month, he was honored for his work as Casco Bay baykeeper with a new 28-foot vessel christened in his name. But he says he's equally proud of the increased numbers of waterkeepers who oversee and protect bays, rivers, sounds, channels, inlets, lakes and creeks in 23 countries, on six continents.
Payne realized a few years ago how much the waterkeeper movement had grown when he noticed how many translators were at the annual waterkeeper meeting.
"At that conference, when I heard the Russian, the Chinese and the other languages, I went 'Holy Moses, it worked.' It's amazing," Payne said at a christening ceremony for his new boat in Yarmouth.
Waterkeepers are typically hired by nonprofit groups to be environmental watchdogs over local bodies of water. The first, John Cronin, came on board in 1983 as the Hudson riverkeeper to patrol the river, restore its fisheries and push for having environmental laws enforced.
In 1992, Payne and six other waterkeepers formed the Alliance of River, Sound and Baykeepers with the aim of growing their numbers. By 1999, their ranks had increased to 34, and they formed the Waterkeeper Alliance, an organization that sets standards for and certifies waterkeepers worldwide.
Now, there are 209 members, including a bayoukeeper in Louisiana, a canalkeeper in London and a wetlandskeeper in Australia.
Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi said waterkeepers are found in places as diverse as the Amazon River Basin, the Tigris River in Iraq and the Bagmati River in Nepal, which is considered holy by Hindus and Buddhists.
"I think people recognize we have a right to clean water for swimming, drinking and fishing, and someone's got to stand up for it," Yaggi said. "They've seen the model work on Casco Bay, they've seen it work on the Hudson River, they've seen it work on Long Island Sound and all these other waterways, and they're inspired to replicate it."
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