Washington State 2009/10 Mussel Watch Pilot Project: A Collaboration Between National, State and Local Partners


Published: 2010

Pages: 283

Author(s): Jennifer Lanksbury, James West, Kathleen Herrmann, Andrea Hennings, Kate Litle and Amy Johnson

Executive Summary

NOAA's National Mussel Watch Program has monitored the status and trends of toxic contaminants in our nation's Great Lakes and marine coastal waters, including Puget Sound, since 1986. This project represents first steps towards adapting NOAA's large-scale program to address toxics monitoring and needs at the Puget Sound scale. As such, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) Puget Sound Assessment and Monitoring Program (PSAMP) teamed with Snohomish County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), Snohomish County Public Works-Surface Water Management, Washington Sea Grant, and NOAA's Mussel Watch team to (a) conduct field-sampling for the 2009/10 Mussel Watch season in Washington waters, (b) evaluate the possibility of merging field sampling with existing toxic contaminant monitoring in Puget Sound (c) demonstrate and evaluate the use citizen scientists as a primary resource for conducting field work and (d) investigate the feasibility of Mussel Watch as a monitoring tool in Puget Sound.

PSAMP staff coordinated with Snohomish County and Washington Sea Grant staff to identify which of the 26 core Mussel Watch locations would be sampled by volunteer teams, and which would be sampled by PSAMP staff, to identify appropriate local volunteer groups for volunteer sampling, and to develop volunteer materials based on the NOAA Mussel Watch protocol. Snohomish County staff coordinated with local volunteer groups to organize five volunteer training sessions, and trained all of the volunteers (including Site Leads) who then successfully sampled mussels from each of their assigned Mussel Watch sites. Washington Sea Grant staff helped to organize the project and coordinate the volunteer activities. NOAA Mussel Watch sent a representative from Silver Spring, MD to assist in implementing the project, including field work for two sampling locations. Volunteers sampled 14 sites while PSAMP staff sampled six sites and assisted with some of the logistics for the volunteer-locations.

All Mussel Watch locations were successfully sampled using adapted NOAA protocols by either PSAMP staff or a citizen scientist team, except for five sites where mussels were unavailable and one where it was determined that conditions were too hazardous to continue the site. Specific sampling locations for several other sites were shifted to overcome some of these issues, with careful attention paid to selecting new sampling locations that were still close enough and with conditions similar to originally designated Site Centers. A review of field reports from previous years indicated that some previous Mussel Watch sampling had been made at locations that were substantially different from intended Site Centers, so we concluded that a careful matching of actual historical sampling locations with Mussel Watch pollutant data is needed for future data analyses of historic data. In at least one case an ambient station had been shifted to a marina, wherein previously unexplained high contaminant values had been observed.

Three new pilot locations were sampled on a one-time basis to either evaluate contaminant loads in mussels from a highly contaminated site, or to coordinate with other existing PSAMP sampling efforts. These sites may provide information that will be useful in helping to design future expansion efforts of Mussel Watch in Puget Sound.

All mussel samples were shipped to labs and arrived in excellent condition for chemical analysis and histopathological determination of reproductive condition. We have since been informed that chemical analysis of tissues by the contract lab in Texas may be substantially delayed because of the large number of high-priority samples being handled by that lab from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As of this writing we have no estimate of the timing for receiving data.

Training workshops and materials developed for the citizen scientists were successful and demonstrated the proof-of-concept for using volunteers to implement a monitoring study such as Mussel Watch. More than 65 volunteers contributed over 500 hours to sampling mussels in this project, with a value of more than $10,000. Volunteers significantly reduced the amount of time professional staff were needed in the field, provided staff scientists with valuable local knowledge and natural history, and engaged citizens¡¥ desire to become involved in Puget Sound¡¥s recovery. A post-project survey indicated a high degree of satisfaction among the volunteers, an increased personal connection with their local environment and the research and monitoring community conducting these studies. Ninety percent of participants indicated a desire to participate again in the program and expressed an interest in expanding Mussel Watch coverage in their region to answer local pollution questions.

Recommendations and next steps for adapting Mussel Watch to Puget Sound needs are to:

  • Identify goals of an expanded Mussel Watch program, particularly relative to the Puget Sound Partnership's Action Agenda and other existing related studies
  • Engage and coordinate existing participants with interested potential partners such as Marine Resource Committees, Stormwater Work Group, local governments, tribes, and non-governmental groups
  • Design the expansion to address Puget Sound goals
  • Identify and inventory the availability of mussels in Puget Sound for expanding sampling
  • Evaluate the uses and limitations of mussels for monitoring pollution based on their distribution and life history characteristics

Successful adaptation of the National Mussel Watch program to the Puget Sound level will require sufficient and consistent funding to conduct adequate pilot studies, establish more sampling locations than currently exist, add seasonal sampling where necessary, and establish a well-tended wide-ranging network of committed volunteers and volunteer organizations.

Suggested citation

Lanksbury, J., J. E. West, K. Herrmann, A. Hennings, K. Litle and A. Johnson. 2010. Washington State 2009/10 Mussel Watch Pilot Project: A Collaboration Between National, State and Local Partners. Olympia, WA. Puget Sound Partnership, 283pp.