Ruth M. Sofield, PhD

Environmental Sciences Department, Huxley College of the Environment at WWU

About Mussel Watch

Mussel Watch is a national program designed to monitor contaminants in the Great Lakes and coastal waters of the United States. The program, which has been in existence since 1986, is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Status and Trends Program. Nearly 300 sites have been established where local mussels and oysters are collected. The mussel tissues are analyzed for over 140 chemical contaminants that may be present in the water, including trace metals, PAHs, PCBs, and other persistent organic pollutants. The mussels are a good indicator of water quality since they are common in coastal waters, filter large volumes of water and are poor metabolizers of many organic contaminants. These qualities mean they accumulate the contaminants from the water into their tissues and, therefore, provide a useful record of the contaminants that were in the waters preceding collection of the mussels.

Our Involvement

Bellingham Bay was a regular sampling site for the Mussel Watch program from 1995 to 2000. In 2010 and 2012, mussels (Mytilus edulis) were once again collected from Bellingham for the program. Between 2000 and 2010, the people responsible for collecting the mussels moved from companies contracted by NOAA to mussels collected by volunteers through a Citizen Science program. In 2010 and 2012, students from Ruth's classes at Huxley helped Whatcom County Public Works collect mussels from the Squalicum (Harbor) marina jetty with adapted NOAA protocols. After collection, mussel samples were shipped to labs for chemical analysis and histopathological determination of reproductive condition. The potential sources of contamination at the Squalicum Harbor site include urban runoff from this heavily industrialized area including a large fishing, timber and pulp and paper industries. The results from the 2010 collections should be available soon (as of February 2012, they had not been analyzed because of the Deepwater Horizon spill which shifted the resources of the lab responsible for chemical analyses to the Gulf of Mexico).

In 2015, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) commenced a caged mussel study as part of a Regional Stormwater Monitoring Program (RSMP). The fall quarter environmental toxicology class adpoted one of the monitoring sites. Students helped DFW with mussel measurements, deployed the cage at our site and will retreive it when the monitoring is complete.

More Information and Resources

More on Washington State Mussel Watch as a Citizen Science Program

Mussel Watch Publications and Data from NOAA

An Assessment of Two Decades of Contaminant Monitoring in the Nation's Coastal Zone

Page Updated 10.16.2015