Citizen Science Monitoring for Pathogen Indicators in the NY-NJ Harbor
When people swim or kayak in polluted waters, they come in contact with pathogens (harmful bacteria) that can cause disease and sickness. These pathogens enter our waterways via sewage and stormwater outfalls that flow into the estuary. Routine agency sampling is typically conducted mid-channel via boat, while recreational season shoreline sampling only occurs seasonally at designated beaches. Many residents and visitors boat and swim in areas that are either being monitored infrequently or not at all. To understand recreational water quality in the estuary, near-shore pathogen monitoring is needed to provide high quality data and fill in data gaps.
New York-New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program (HEP) worked with citizen scientists over the summer of 2014 to provide the tools needed to generate high quality, credible data on the health of our waterways by measuring pathogens. Citizen scientists were responsible for the full cycle of sample collection, analyses, and data management and publication, following quality assurance and quality control procedures approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA trained citizen scientists in field, lab, and data management procedures; lent equipment and supplies; and provided technical assistance. Local organizations and citizen scientists acquired important science skills and experiences while collecting valuable information on near-shore pathogen levels.
Expanding this initiative, HEP funded two organizations to conduct near-shore pathogen monitoring in areas of Staten Island and the Raritan Bayshore in 2016. Working closely with the Interstate Environmental Commission and EPA, partners collected data on pathogens; other water quality parameters such as turbidity, water temperature, dissolved oxygen and pH levels; and recorded visual observations related to site collections. The data gathered from the initiative provides valuable data to develop a systematic approach determining pathogen levels for near shore areas in reference to contact recreation and other uses of the estuary.