National Mussel Watch Program

NOAA's National Mussel Watch Program (MWP) is a contaminant monitoring program that monitors the status and trends of chemical contaminants and biological stressors in the nation’s coastal waters. Since 1986, the Mussel Watch Program remains the longest running continuous contaminant-monitoring program of its kind in the United States. The program utilizes a sentinel-based approach to monitoring, by collecting and analyzing sediment and bivalves (oysters and mussels) as surrogates for water pollution and bioaccumulation at a network of nearly 300 coastal sites including the Great Lakes, Alaska, Hawai'i, and Puerto Rico.

Our Coastal Pollution Monitoring Program

The National Mussel Watch Program provides unique data that is vital to evaluating the health of the nation’s estuarine and coastal waters, particularly describing the levels of chemical contamination. The program’s long-term data supports the assessment of potential impacts of unforeseen events such as oil spills and hurricanes, as well as evaluating the effectiveness of regulations that ban toxic chemicals or support legislation such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Federal, state and local resource managers, as well as university scholars that make informed decisions have used the data. Hundreds of scientific journal articles and technical reports are based on National Mussel Watch data.

Our Research and Projects

The goal of the National Mussel Watch Program is to support ecosystem-based management through an integrated nationwide environmental monitoring, assessment, and research to describe the status and trends of our nation’s estuaries and coasts. Different target bivalve shellfish are used as sentinel species. The mussels (Mytilus species) are collected from the North Atlantic and Pacific coasts, oysters (Crassostrea virginica) from the mid-Atlantic (Delaware Bay) southward and along the Gulf Coast, Smooth-edged jewelbox (Chama sinuosa) from the Florida Keys, and zebra mussels (Dreissena species), an invasive species, are collected from sites in the Great Lakes. Mangrove oyster (C. rhizophorae) are collected from Puerto Rico and topical oyster (Ostrea sandvicensis) from Hawaii. Mussel watch sites are distributed at 10–100 km apart to better represent large coastal areas. The sites were historically selected to be representative of their surroundings, and not located in known "hot spots". Recently however, new targeted sites have been established in areas of known chemical and microbial contamination at the request of federal, state, and local partners.

The History of Mussel Watch

In 1986 NOAA established the National Mussel Watch Program in response to a legislative mandate under Section 202 of Title II of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, which called on the Secretary of Commerce to initiate a continuous monitoring program to assess the health of the marine environment, including monitoring of contaminant levels in biota, sediment and the water column. Initially the program only sampled 145 sites, but the program has evolved and as of 2008, approximately 300 active monitoring sites were established in the continental U.S., Alaska, Puerto Rico and Hawaii. In 2013, NCCOS undertook the task of re-designing the MWP, moving from a nationwide biennial collection monitoring approach to the rotating regional monitoring model. The regional approach allows the program to increase interaction with regional stakeholders while providing specific data needs to help fill local data gaps. With adaptive changes and leveraging regional partnerships the program has increased its scientific relevance and reputation, and has evolved to include nearly 600 chemical contaminants, including metals, legacy organic compounds and chemicals of emerging concern (CECs).