Session: What’s in the water? An overview of water quality monitoring and assessment initiatives for coastal Maine and New Hampshire

Moderator: Luke Frankel

Ever wonder what efforts are involved with ensuring the beaches you swim at are safe or the mussels you eat are healthy? In this session, you’ll hear from state agencies and members of the research community as they highlight initiatives to address threats to human and animal health due to impaired water quality. ME and NH beach monitoring program coordinators will give an overview of their monitoring programs, including how the public is notified when unsafe water quality may pose a risk to human health. Members of the research community will share their use of innovative tools to identify human health risks in New England’s coastal waters and ongoing work to better understand how human activities are impacting the commercially important blue mussel. This session is for those with an interest in water quality who want to learn more about ongoing programs and research initiatives in coastal New England.


Maine Healthy Beaches Program: An Overview of Recent Water Quality Trends and Program Updates

The Maine Healthy Beaches (MHB) program is a statewide effort to monitor water quality and protect public health at participating coastal, saltwater beaches. MHB works to keep coastal waters healthy by working with municipalities, state and federal agencies, nonprofits, and local citizens to monitor beach water for fecal indicator bacteria (enterococcus) and notify the public of potential health risks. Unsafe bacteria levels degrade ecosystems, threaten public health, and lead to repeated advisories at Maine’s valued coastal beaches. By working collaboratively with diverse partners and technical experts, the program focuses on sharing resources and supporting communities to address water quality issues. The information collected by the program and partners is used to inform beach management notification decisions, assess water quality impairments, and to target public outreach and education efforts to support water quality improvements.

The audience will receive an overview of MHB’s volunteer water quality monitoring program and a summary of recent water quality trends for the program’s 65 participating beaches, including program impacts due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Highlights from recent enhanced monitoring projects in coastal watersheds, emerging beach water quality issues, and recent program updates will also be shared.

Meagan Sims, Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MEDEP)

I am the Program Coordinator for the Maine Healthy Beaches Program. As part of this work, I oversee and coordinate the implementation of beach monitoring, assessment, and public notification efforts for participating coastal Maine communities and state parks, conduct community engagement initiatives, and assist communities with the development of locally relevant enhanced monitoring efforts and outreach materials. I have a B.Sc. in Marine Biology from the Florida Institute of Technology and a M.Sc. degree in Marine Science from the University of New England.


New Hampshire’s Coastal Beach Monitoring Program 

This presentation will summarize the responsibilities of the Coastal Beach Program run by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. This program monitors 16 of NH’s coastal beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day for the indicator bacteria, Enterococci. When results surpass the state criteria, an advisory is issued for that beach to warn visitors of potentially unsafe swimming conditions. This presentation will provide historical results from the monitoring program and report on the status of New Hampshire’s beaches.

Michele Condon, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES)

I graduated from the University of New England in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and Environmental Science. I have been working for New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services since my graduation but just started as the Beach Program Coordinator.


Routine Surprises: Coastal Water Monitoring for Human Health Risks 

I seek to present information from many studies and across research themes to convey trends and unique results from many studies related to human health risks in NE coastal waters, pointing out progress, limitations and new directions for tracking bacterial contamination, fecal pollution sources and emerging threats to human health.

Stephen Jones, University of New Hampshire (UNH)

I am a research professor at UNH, and since 1987 I’ve focused much of my work on human health risks associated coastal waters and seafood. Partners have been important, and include Maine Healthy Beaches, the NH and MA Beaches programs, and the NH Surfriders Foundation, to name a few. My group has tracked sources of fecal-borne microbial contamination in all New England states and we continue to explore new threats resulting from climate change and human impacts.


Nitrogen loading in Casco Bay and its effect on Blue Mussel health

In the summer of 2021, I worked at GMRI looking at heavy nitrogen isotopes in Blue Mussels, a commercially important species, taken from Casco Bay and building on the work of Graham Sherwood. This method especially focuses on nitrogen derived from human activity as N15 isotopes bioaccumulate as they move up trophic levels. Thus, by analyzing the heavy nitrogen in the tissue of sessile suspension feeders in the intertidal zone we can pinpoint areas of human derived nutrient loading. I built on this work by measuring the health of the mussels and how it related to the levels of heavy nitrogen. We measured health by a variety of metrics including shell strength, meat to shell weight ratio, and dry meat to wet meat ratio. The goal of the presentation is to show how human activity can have a measurable impact on our coastal ecosystems, as well as how the effect of nitrogen loading on mussel health can help to inform aquaculture site selection.

Brian Determan, Southern Maine Community College (SMCC)

I am currently a Marine Science student at SMCC (I will have graduated by June) and conducted this research as part of an REU during the summer of 2021 at GMRI.