Can mud samples help us protect killer whales from marine pollution? This is what an important new project developed by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute aims to achieve.

As we call attention to the health of our oceans on Earth Day, we’re excited to introduce PollutionTracker, the first regimented system for monitoring pollutants in B.C.’s coastal waters.

Developed by Dr. Peter Ross, director of Ocean Pollution Research at the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, with the support of the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, the program is designed to help scientists figure out which pollutants are in our waters, and how they affect marine life. British Columbia’s killer whales are now recognized as the most PCB-contaminated marine mammals in the world, says Dr. Ross, PollutionTracker  is a tool we can use to find out why.

Mud samples will inform us of the history of ocean pollution in our local waters.

Mud samples will inform us of the history of ocean pollution in our local waters.

“Mud to us is gold, it informs us of the history of ocean pollution in our local waters and allows us to identify emerging pollution issues,” says Dr. Ross. The information gathered through PollutionTracker will be freely available to the public in order to raise awareness of how everyday activities affect our oceans. The big picture goal: this data will help us develop policies and procedures to reduce the threats posed by pollutants to marine species, such as endangered southern resident killer whales.

Supported by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority 10 PollutionTracker stations in Burrard Inlet, the Strait of Georgia and the Gulf Islands will give us insight into the state of our coastal waters. Mud samples collected from the sites will provide much-needed baselines for ongoing research. By collaborating with the Port, Vancouver Aquarium will have access to many other agencies and organizations up and down the B.C. coast.

By analyzing data in mud we’ll have a better idea of how to protect killer whales and other sea life.

By analyzing data in mud we’ll have a better idea of how to protect killer whales and other sea life.

Aquarium researchers are in the process of collecting and analyzing samples. Data collected will be used to create an early warning platform for new pollutants, track pollution trends over time, and document the levels of contaminants such as PCBs, dioxins, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and microplastics.

By analyzing data in mud and some of the smallest organisms, Dr. Ross is hopeful we’ll have a better idea of how to protect species all the way up the food chain.

“What we’re trying to do is protect killer whales and a lot other sea life – we do that by being able to identify and prioritize the different chemical threats found in our coastal waters.”

That, in turn, will help everyone protect our oceans on Earth Day, and every day of the year.

“At the end of the day ocean pollution is everybody’s business,” says Dr. Ross.

 

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