Gulfwatch Contaminants Monitoring Program
Gulfwatch monitors pollution in the Gulf of Maine
Gulfwatch is a chemical-contaminants monitoring program organized and administered by the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment. Since 1993, Gulfwatch has measured contaminants in blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) to assess the types and concentration of contaminants in coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine. It is one of the few monitoring programs and the only one in the Gulf of Maine to be coordinated across international borders.
Gulfwatch is coordinated and conducted by scientists and managers from agencies and universities around the Gulf. The program operates under the guidance of the Gulf of Maine Council’s Gulfwatch Contaminants Monitoring Committee and is supported with funding from the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Gulfwatch tests blue mussels for contamination
Each fall, scientists collect blue mussels, rotating among 38 sites around the Gulf of Maine, and analyze their whole tissues for a variety of contaminants. Additional sites may be sampled in a particular year as part of other projects associated with Gulfwatch. Data indicate where contaminant concentrations may be high and enable researchers to compare concentrations at different locations. Data also show changes in concentrations over time. Time-series analysis is continually being conducted as more data become available each year.
More information: Mussels as biomonitors
Dozens of chemicals and metals are monitored
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) come from municipal and industrial effluents, fossil fuel combustion, wastewater from refineries and offshore oil rigs, and petroleum spills. Gulfwatch measures 12 low-molecular-weight PAHs and 12 high-molecular-weight PAHs.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are synthetic chemicals comprised of chlorine atoms arranged on a biphenyl molecule. They are highly persistent in the environment and may be highly toxic. Gulfwatch measures 22 PCBs.
Chlorinated pesticides are synthetic chemicals that have been used as pesticides, such as DDT and dieldrin. Most are highly persistent in the environment. Gulfwatch measures 16 chlorinated pesticides.
Metals occur naturally but human activities may increase their concentration and availability from fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, metal smelting, industries, and domestic waste. Gulfwatch measures 9 metals.
Sites range from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia
Since 1993, Gulfwatch has sampled more than three dozen sites along the coast of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Sites are sampled every one to three years.
List of sampling sites, including site names, latitude/longitude, years sampled, and substrate:
The Council established Gulfwatch in 1991
In December 1989, the premiers of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and the governors of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts signed the Agreement on the Conservation of the Marine Environment of the Gulf of Maine. This agreement established the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment, whose mission is to maintain and enhance environmental quality in the Gulf of Maine. In 1989, the Gulf of Maine Council formed the Contaminants Monitoring to provide resource managers with information to support sustainable use of the Gulf and allow assessment and management of risks to public and environmental health. The EQMC established three monitoring goals, which include providing information on:
- The status, trends, and risks of contaminants to the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.
- The human health risks from contaminants in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.
- Monitoring information to resource managers that will allow both efficient and effective management action and evaluation of such action.
As a step toward meeting these goals, the EQMC established Gulfwatch. At the outset of the Gulfwatch program, an important objective was to test the feasibility and cooperation required for Gulf-wide monitoring. After a two-year pilot project that showed Gulfwatch could succeed, a study design was developed to:
- Conduct regional contaminant monitoring using the blue mussel as an indicator of habitat exposure to organic and inorganic contaminants.
- Assess the status and trends of chemical contaminants in coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy.
- Establish a baseline reference for future monitoring efforts on trace chemicals.
Monitoring the entire Gulf is an important challenge
The Gulf of Maine is a semi-enclosed sea that is bound on three sides by Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia and flanked on the east by Browns Bank and Georges Bank, and includes the Bay of Fundy. Many environmental, social, and political challenges make it difficult to monitor the health of this ecosystem. Some of these are:
The Gulf of Maine watershed is large
The Gulf of Maine watershed spans 69,115 square miles (165,185 square kilometer) and the Gulf of Maine spans 36,000 square miles (90,700 square kilometer). One challenge is deciding what, where, and how often environmental variables should be monitored.
Pollution comes from near and far
More than 60 rivers pour 250 billion gallons (950 million cubic meters) of water—and contaminants—into the Gulf each year. Chemicals may also enter the Gulf from the atmosphere, overland runoff, or other human sources. Effectively identifying, quantifying, or remediating many pollution problems is challenging.
Our population is growing
Nearly six million people live in the watershed, and the population is growing rapidly. Land and water resources in the region face enormous pressure. Monitoring programs must continuously respond to new scientific concerns.
Managing a shared resource is difficult
U.S. and Canadian government agencies face the challenge of having to collaborate and communicate with each other to manage a shared resource. Cooperation is generally high, but sometimes there is disagreement over management priorities.
The Gulfwatch program is growing
In the coming years, Gulfwatch will continue its assessment of trends in chemical contaminants throughout the Gulf of Maine, while adapting to meet the evolving needs of resource managers and surrounding communities, and also being responsive to changes in technology and assessments of the environmental integrity of the Gulf of Maine. Gulfwatch is networked to similar programs such as the NOAA National Status and Trends Program Mussel Watch Project. Gulfwatch is adding bioeffects measures to its regular sampling, and it is encouraging research and monitoring partnerships to strengthen mussel monitoring and to utilize other indicators of ecosystem health in the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy.
For information about Gulfwatch, contact Peter Wells, Canadian Co-chair of the Gulfwatch Contaminants Monitoring Committee. Please visit the Committee membership page.
- Celebrating 25 Years of Knowledge on the Gulf: A Bibliography of Publications of the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment (James D. Ross, L. Danielle Hubbard, Ruth E. Cordes, Bertrum H. MacDonald, and Peter G. Wells)
- Developing and implementing a research framework to determine the use and influence of a long-term marine environmental monitoring program: A Case Study on Gulfwatch in Nova Scotia (Sarah Chamberlain)
- 2014-15 Gulfwatch Program Management Contract (Steve Jones)
- Gulfwatch: Monitoring Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Trace Metal and Organic Contaminants in the Gulf of Maine (1991-1997) with the Blue Mussel, Mytilus edulis L (M.E. Chase, S.H. Jones, P. Hennigar, J. Sowles, G.C.H. Harding, K. Freeman, P.G. Wells, C. Krahforst, K. Coombs, R. Crawford, J. Pederson and D. Taylor)
- Gulfwatch Bibliography, October 2014 (S. Chamberlain and P.G. Wells)
- Gulfwatch 2010 Data Report (PDF, 1.71 MB)
- Gulfwatch Data Reports (1991-2009: PDF Format)
- Gulfwatch fact sheet: Monitoring contaminants in Gulf of Maine coastal waters (PDF, 517 KB)
- Nine-year review of Gulfwatch in the Gulf of Maine: Trends in tissue contaminant levels in the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis L., 1993—2001 (PDF, 2.3 MB)
- Chase M.E., S.H. Jones, P. Hennigar, J. Sowles, G.C.H. Harding, K. Freeman, P.G. Wells, C. Krahforst, K. Coombs, R. Crawford, J. Pederson, and D. Taylor. 2001. Gulfwatch: monitoring spatial and temporal patterns of trace metal and organic contaminants in the Gulf of Maine (1991-1997) with the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis L. Marine Pollution Bulletin 42:491-505.
- Fried, S. 1999. Gulfwatch: Putting a little mussel into Gulf of Maine marine monitoring. Fundy Issues #12. Bay of Fundy Ecosystem Partnership.
- Gottholm, B.W., and D.D. Turgeon. 1992. Toxic Contaminants in the Gulf of Maine. NOAA, National Ocean Service, Offi ce of Ocean Resources of Maine. NOAA, National Ocean Service, Offi ce of Ocean Resources of Maine Conservation and Assessment, Rockville, MD.
- Jones S.H., M. Chase, J. Sowles, P. Hennigar, N. Landry, P.G. Wells, G.C.H. Harding, C. Krahforst, and G.L. Brun. 2001. Monitoring for toxic contaminants in Mytilus edulis from New Hampshire and the Gulf of Maine. Journal of Shellfi sh Research 20:1203-1214.
- O’Connor, T.P. 1998. Mussel Watch results from 1986 to 1996. Marine Pollution Bulletin 37:14-19.
- Wells, P.G. 2003. Assessing health of the Bay of Fundy: Concepts and Framework. Marine Pollution Bulletin 46: 1059-1077.
- Wells, P.G. 2005. Chapter 17. Assessing marine ecosystem health – concepts and indicators, with reference to the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine, Northwest Atlantic. In Jorgensen, et al. Handbook of Ecological Indicators, Francis and Taylor / CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL., pages 395-430.
- Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment
- NOAA National Status and Trends Program
- New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Gulfwatch Program