For over 25 years the Gulfwatch Contaminants Monitoring Program of the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment has annually measured chemical contaminants in the Gulf of Maine, including the Bay of Fundy using the internationally employed Mussel Watch methodology. Designed to “provide environmental and resource managers with information to support sustainable use of the Gulf and allow assessment and management of risk to public and environmental health from current and potential threats,” the program has produced annual data sets, as well as reports and published papers, since 1991.
The production of this information and the longevity of the program, however, do not automatically ensure the information is considered in policy- and decision-making regarding environmental protection, conservation, or human health. Thus, this study aimed to determine whether anyone was using the information products of the program. As a test of methodology, the study focused on use of the information by marine managers, decision-makers, and possible end-users in the fishing industry in Nova Scotia who have a mandate for seafood safety, aquaculture management, or water quality. Mixed methods of quantitative and qualitative metrics were employed in the data collection and analysis. Completed as an EIUI study, the research was conducted by Sarah Chamberlain as a project within the Master of Marine Management program at Dalhousie University, and with the assistance of the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
Currently “in press” with Marine Pollution Bulletin, this paper by Sarah Chamberlain, Peter Wells, and Bertrum MacDonald shows that though the perceived importance of Gulfwatch is high, awareness of the program and its data and information products is limited. Several enablers and barriers to the use of the information were identified. Based on the findings, the paper set out five recommendations, summarized here:
- A program such as Gulfwatch must be adaptable and responsive to the information needs of local users in government and industry. Recent research indicates that producing information that is directly relevant to the decision-making needs of end-users is critical. Information must be applicable to the specific problem, region, and marine environment and be usable in decision-making processes.
- The importance and relevance of the monitoring program should be communicated to potential users in government and industry at every opportunity. For instance, any monitoring program should be able to demonstrate its value in supporting legislation (such as the Fisheries or Oceans Acts in Canada) at all levels of government. In targeting potential users of the data and information, explanations of how it can be used will contribute to greater use. Furthermore, conversations with potential end users should also seek to establish what information is needed in order to make decisions and influence policy.
- Novel ways of communicating with members of the policy or environmental management communities should be investigated. Expanding communication outside of traditional methods helps to expand awareness and use of the program.
- The Gulfwatch monitoring program needs fiscal and personnel support over the long term to meet its broad societal goals as the data and information are clearly being used.
- The importance of a monitoring program’s institutional memory should also be emphasized. All information outputs and communication initiatives produced by a monitoring program should be catalogued over its lifetime, particularly in long-term programs that inevitably see changes in personnel. This strategy would facilitate finding new communication outlets to increase awareness and use of the program’s information.
Chamberlain, S. D., Wells, P. G., & MacDonald, B. H. (2017). The Gulfwatch contaminants monitoring program in the Gulf of Maine: Are its data being used for ocean protection, with special reference to Nova Scotia, Canada? Marine Pollution Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.09.050
The Gulfwatch Contaminants Monitoring Program is part of the Canada-US, Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment (GOMC). Programs monitoring legacy toxic substances, i.e., chemical contaminants, such as Gulfwatch, collect and analyse environmental samples (e.g., blue mussels), interpret the data, and report on chemical levels and trends (spatial and temporal) in coastal waters. This study explored the extent to which its extensive information (data, reports, papers) has been used broadly and by Nova Scotia, a GOMC member. A mixed-methods study was conducted, using quantitative and qualitative metrics. Citations to some Gulfwatch papers and analysis of use of the Gulfwatch website showed that its data and information were accessed, mostly by government departments. However, interviews revealed that the departments were not using the data to inform Nova Scotia provincial coastal policy or practices. Recommendations are presented to improve the visibility and use of information provided by long-term, environmental monitoring programs.
Photo credit: Peter G. Wells