Snohomish County Mussel Watch Program

Mussel Watch Report Available for download

The Mussel Watch subcommittee completed a two-year report detailing contaminant levels in Snohomish County marine waters including possible sources and program recommendations.  The report analyzes contaminant level data from 2006 – 2011 collected from mussels at eight sites in Snohomish County.  The report addresses how Mussel Watch can be used to monitor the effectiveness of Puget Sound cleanup efforts.  For example, decreasing levels of butyltins were found in mussels in Everett Harbor following the ban of butyltin-based vessel antifouling paints.  The report recommends the continuation of the Snohomish County Mussel Watch Program to monitor contaminant level trends in Snohomish County relative to the rest of Puget Sound and the West Coast. 

Click here to view the report.

Sampling at Hat IslandOverview

Since 2007, the Snohomish County Marine Resources Committee has coordinated the Snohomish County Mussel Watch Program.  The goal of this program is to obtain current information on the relative concentrations of the chemical contaminants in the nearshore waters of Snohomish County.  Through the Mussel Watch program, mussels are sampled by volunteers and sent to a laboratory for tissue analysis. 

Snohomish County’s Mussel Watch program is one subset of the NOAA's National Status and Trends Mussel Watch program.  The data from Snohomish County are included in NOAA's Mussel Watch database, the nation's longest running continuous contaminant monitoring program in coastal waters.  Data trends from this program are used to monitor the impact of environmental contaminants and events such as oil spills and the effectiveness of management decisions.


The data show spatial differences between the more rural Port Susan to the north and the more urban developed area to the south of the Snohomish River.  Generally contaminants are lower to the north and higher to the south, with mercury being the exception.  There are also differences between wet and dry seasons.  These trends are presented in the Mussel Watch Report for a compilation of selected parameters.  The report, completed in June 2011, summarizes data through Summer 2009.

Expansion Projects

In 2010 and 2012, the MRC worked with regional project partners from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Washington Sea Grant on the regional expansion of the Mussel Watch program. The expansion project modeled Snohomish County’s Mussel Watch program using citizen scientists for mussel collections.  Mussels were successfully sampled at over 25 sites across Western Washington by citizen scientists from local volunteer groups and WDFW.

In 2010, 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 and an increased personal connection with their local environment and the research and monitoring community conducting these studies.

The report detailing the successful regional expansion of the Mussel Watch Program is available from WDFW.  Click here to view the publication.  

Edmonds Ferry National Mussel Watch site mid-intertidal summertime photo series 

Mussels at the Edmonds Ferry Mussel Watch site in 2008.Click here to view the 2007-2012 Edmonds Ferry photo series.  These photos were taken by Alan Mearns of NOAA.

These photos capture changes in mussel recruitment.  Over time such photo series can be used to monitor cycles in conspicuous intertidal biota.  Photo series could be used to help better understand the interannual variations in mussel populations that Mussel Watch volunteers have observed at Snohomish County Mussel Watch sites.


NWSC Benchmarks Achieved:
Marine Water Quality, Science, Education & Outreach

News Articles

Mussel Memory: How a long term marine pollution program got new life

Dr. Alan Mearns, NOAA Senior Staff Scientist posted to the NOAA Office of Response and Restoration blog about the history of the Washington state Mussel Watch program and the key role of citizen science volunteers in giving the program new life.

Click here to read the blog. 

Volunteers gathering mussels not for meals but to gauge health of shoreline waters

The Everett Herald featured a front-page article on the MRC Mussel Watch Program and the 2012 winter sampling at the Edmonds Ferry site sampling on Saturday, February 4, 2012. 

Click here to view the article. 

Shrinking mussel beds dramatically reduce B.C.'s marine biodiversity

The Vancouver Sun reports on the research of University of British Columbia zoologist, Chris Harley.  Haley conducted a study on the response of mussels to the effects of rising temperatures and predation.  The article is titled "Shrinking mussel beds dramatically reduce B.C.'s marine biodiversity UBC study finds. Rising temperatures shrink predation-free habitat on beaches in the Strait of Juan de Fuca."

Click here to read the article.

Puget Sound Petroleum Poses Harm to Fish

Jim West of WDFW and Alan Mearns of NOAA talk about how mussels sampled through the Mussel Watch Program provide a snapshot of the chemical contaminants found in Puget Sound.  Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) were highlighted as a contaminant of concern.  PAH levels in Puget Sound are "fairly high" compared to other areas in the United States.  PAHs, which are released through burning fossil fuel, can be washed into Puget Sound.  Researchers are examining the impacts of PAH exposure on fish.

Click here to read the full article.