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Great Lakes Mussel Watch Supports the President’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

This project began in January 2010 and is ongoing.

The President’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative began in 2010 and provided the financial support for the Great Lakes Mussel Watch, one of several projects of contaminant monitoring with Great Lakes basin-wide coverage. Mussel and sediment data are used to assess the efficacy of contamination remediation, legislation, and resource management efforts and support the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Annex 2 of the 1987 Protocol).

Why We Care
Dreissenid mussels are abundant in the outer harbors on breakwaters and other hard substrates throughout the Great Lakes. These sessile, filter-feeding bottom dwellers bioaccumulate contaminants, possess limited ability to metabolize contaminants, are representative of local conditions, shed light on bioavailability of contaminants to higher trophic levels, and serve as surrogates for benthic and wildlife health, thus making them an excellent tool for contamination monitoring and assessment.

What We Did and Are Doing
Following the inception of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to address the significant environmental issues plaguing the Great Lakes region, Mussel Watch expanded its regional monitoring activities in the Great Lakes in 2009 to include all types of land use. This enhanced effort falls under the 'Toxic Substances and Areas of Concern' focus area outlined in the GLRI Action Plan. The overall objective of the expanded monitoring is to assess remediation effectiveness and provide new information on contaminants of emerging concern and effects-based indicators. The stated objective is being met through a phased approach using a suite of mussel and sediment indicators and by leveraging the long-term monitoring data at reference sites for meaningful interpretation with respect to various land use types.

Our collaborators include:

  • U.S. EPA Region 5, Great Lakes National Program Office
  • U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development
  • University of Wisconsin – School of Freshwater Sciences
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
  • Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
  • Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • University of North Carolina–Charlotte
  • Hollings Marine Laboratory / National Institute of Standards and Technology
  • NOAA Office of Response and Restoration
  • NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service
  • NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries

What We Found
We report results from the first phase (2010/11) under GLRI, mainly mussel tissue and sediment chemistry data obtained by Mussel Watch with the goal of providing a high-level basin-wide perspective on the relative magnitude and extent of contamination in urban and non-urban sites.

To better address contamination and remediation issues, Mussel Watch has adopted multi-parameter assessments and incorporated newer techniques and approaches to the existing methods. For mussels, we have intensified sampling, both spatially and temporally in priority urban areas to provide a more robust measure of bioavailable contamination, have used deployment of caged mussels to track source contaminants in areas where extant mussels beds are not found, and have incorporated effects-based monitoring to complement body burden measurements.

We use the Generalized Random Tessellation Stratified method to conduct probabilistic sediment quality assessments, which allow us to report on sediment chemistry and benthos and sediment toxicity. These focused efforts in priority urban areas have been implemented through the successful partnership and collaboration with local, state, and federal entities. The results from these ongoing and future works will be the focus of subsequent reports.

Next Steps
Mussel Watch will continue to monitor both mussel chemistry and health indicators in urban and non-urban areas, especially where leveraged  resources from  federal and state partners will result in more timely and relevant data. In particular, Mussel Watch will refocus its efforts on contaminants of emerging concern and effects-based indicators such as genomics to expand the knowledge and understanding of biological impacts from chemical stressors.

In 2014, Great Lakes Mussel Watch began work on the Niagara River in collaboration with EPA, USACE, and NYSDEC to help with a baseline assessment of upper Niagra River tributaries.

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