Water Quality

Priorities for Healthy Beaches and Seafood


Oyster Photo credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Division

To help ensure healthy beaches and safe seafood in our coastal areas, the Alliance has identified four water quality priorities that will guide the partnership’s efforts:

  1. Reducing risk of exposure to disease-causing pathogens in coastal waters,
  2. Minimizing occurrence and effects of harmful algal blooms (HABs),
  3. Identifying sources of mercury in Gulf seafood, and
  4. Improving monitoring of Gulf water resources.

These issues are far-reaching and are best addressed through regional-scale efforts such as the Alliance.

Long-term Goals

  • Develop a monitoring network that identifies the sources of pathogens and their impacts
  • Implement a HAB tracking and forecasting system that supports the reduction or elimination of blooms and can be used to minimize the negative effects
  • Reduce the risk of mercury-induced health effects from Gulf seafood consumption
  • Develop a monitoring network that provides vital information about the status and trends of Gulf water quality



Water Quality 1: Coastal Pathogens

Action: Improve the understanding of waterborne, disease-causing microorganisms (pathogens), including their sources and survival so that coastal managers can make informed decisions that benefit public health and coastal economies.

Registry established for Molecular Markers

Improving methods for identifying the sources of contaminated waters is one of the areas of emphasis.  One very promising area of methods research uses “molecular markers” from DNA and RNA found in the contaminated waters to help determine whether the source of waste contaminating a water body is of human or animal origin, and to identify the type of animal.  This information can help greatly in determining the risk to human health and in focusing efforts to remove the contamination.  Researchers in this arena identified the need for a central registry containing the methods that have been tried, with sufficient information about the tested markers so that other researchers and managers can choose methods appropriate for their area and likely sources of contamination.

The Water Quality Team identified the information needed by researchers and managers and organized it into a web-based registry.  This registry is open for addition of new molecular markers and new marker methods and is intended to be a resource for all such research.  New information submissions are reviewed before addition to ensure the integrity of the registry contents.  The registry can be found below. Please click on file  and "Save" to your computer, then opened with Microsoft Excel.

GOMA Molecular Markers Registry 02-18-2013 (xls, 195kb)

Project Contact:
Steve Wolfe

White Paper Published in "Journal of Water and Health"

The USEPA is revising its recreational water quality criteria and some of those changes reflect points raised in a white paper written by the Water Quality Team and published in the Journal of Water and Health. The paper outlined a number of concerns regarding existing and proposed methods and criteria, including ensuring that criteria formulation uses data that include Gulf of Mexico-specific conditions, that rapid-testing methods be feasible and adequately controlled, and that USEPA maintains investments in water quality research once the new criteria are promulgated in order to assure that outstanding scientific questions are addressed and that scientifically defensible criteria are achieved for the Gulf of Mexico.

Project Contact:
Steve Wolfe

View Website

Water Quality 2: Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

Action: Reduce the effects of HABs by improving our ability to detect, track, forecast, and mitigate HAB movement and their effects along the Gulf Coast.

Overview of Methods for Sampling and Analyzing HAB Toxins

Within the Gulf of Mexico, extending into the bays and estuaries to the tidal reach, there are currently more than 50 known algae species with the potential to produce harmful effects. Blooms of these species are called harmful algal blooms (HABs).  The most significant HAB species from the perspective of human or animal health are microalgae that produce toxins.  Some species, however, have a deleterious impact by causing functional damage to fish gills or being concentrated by filter-feeding shellfish, which then are rendered toxic to human consumers.  Other microalgae can be indirectly detrimental to the environment through impacts on the ecosystem, such as out-competing and replacing species that are better food sources, shading of sea grasses, or contributing to the development of hypoxia.  The GOMA HABS workgroup is working on developing forecasting capabilities in order to gain a better understanding of the environmental and human-induced factors that cause harmful algal species to bloom and dissipate; both action and understanding help to reduce the effects of harmful algal blooms on human and natural resource health, while minimizing impacts to the coastal economy.  For these reasons, the GOMA HABs Workgroup is implementing the Harmful Algal Bloom Integrated Observing System (HABIOS) for the Gulf of Mexico.

Project Contact:
Steve Wolfe

Water Quality 3: Mercury in Seafood

Action: Identify sources of mercury in Gulf fishery resources, understand its presence in the Gulf food web, and develop the ability to reduce the human health risk of exposure.

Click for agenda, presentations, etc. from the October 2011 Mercury Forum....

Conceptual Model for Mercury Cycling in the Gulf

Mercury has been found in sometimes-high concentrations in some species of Gulf fish and has been identified as a human-health risk.  Increased understanding of the cycle of mercury through the Gulf of Mexico food web will help to identify the important sources of mercury and will improve the ability of state and federal agencies to reduce the risk of mercury exposure.  


Project Contact:
Steve Wolfe

White Paper on Gulf of Mexico Mercury Fate and Transport

As part of the risk-reduction efforts, the Water Quality team wrote the White Paper on Gulf of Mexico Mercury Fate and Transport: Applying Scientific Research to Reduce the Risk from Mercury in Gulf of Mexico Seafood.  This document lays out the present understanding of mercury sources, transport, fate, pathways into seafood, and identifies populations that may be at risk from consuming seafood with high levels of mercury.  It also highlights accomplishments by the Water Quality Team to improve understanding, and describes key research priorities to better help managers understand the steps to reduce mercury in seafood.  CLICK "View PDF" below for document.

Project Contact:
Steve Wolfe

Water Quality 4: Monitoring

Action: Obtain and provide vital information about the conditions of Gulf waters to support better management decisions regarding coastal fisheries, recreation, tourism, public health, and infrastructure planning.

Recommendations for Long Term Monitoring in the Gulf

Healthy Gulf coast habitats and the plants and animals living in them depend on good water quality.  The coastal economies of the Gulf States are generally based on these ecosystems.  Good management decisions about coastal fisheries, recreation, tourism, public health, and sustainable development depend on available information about the quality of the water, and the condition and health of the ecosystems depending on that water.  Good management is built on good information that is based on good data from water resource monitoring.  On September 10-12, 2012, the GOMA Water Quality Team, in concert with the GOMA Nutrients Team and the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, held the Gulf Nutrient-Monitoring Design meeting at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, FL.  The purpose was to develop a draft monitoring network design to address priority questions developed by the Nutrients Team.  Participants included state representatives, monitoring design experts, GOMA federal partners, nutrients experts, and modelers who created monitoring system designs for both Gulf-wide and regional scales of Gulf monitoring, and provided guidance and templates to guide the design of estuarine and coastal monitoring systems.    The report resulting from the initial nutrient monitoring design workshop is available at the link below. A workshop to add the GOMA monitoring priorities for harmful algal blooms, pathogens, and mercury to the existing nutrient-monitoring plan will take place in early March, 2013, with implementation-planning workshops to follow.  CLICK "View PDF" below for document.

Project Contact:
Steve Wolfe

Round Robins

Many groups routinely take measurements in ambient waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  However, each group uses slightly different standard operating procedures (SOPs), equipment, and standards, which leads to an unknown amount of variability in the data collected.  The Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) identified the need to assess this variability and to explore ways to decrease variability in the data values based solely on changes to SOPs.  The GOMA chose to carry out round robins to determine the types and causes of variability, and use subsequent discussions to help improve data comparability.  For the Field Round Robins, two areas that may affect data comparability were identified:  (1) measurements taken while in the field (= field measurements) and (2) samples collected (= water samples).  The second part focuses on the potential variability in data reported by laboratories resulting from differences in sample collection.  In the case of field round robins, the samplers are the focus; for analytical round robins, the focus is on the laboratories that analyze water collected from around the Gulf and the methods they use.  Analytical round robins look at the variability among particular analytes between local, state, federal, academic, and private laboratories.  The overall purpose of the analytical round robins is to examine the degree of data comparability present in order to determine the potential need to standardize, update, or develop methods across the Gulf of Mexico.  There have been six field round robins and nine analytical round robins to date.

Click below for "Round Robin" Documents:

Field Round Robin #1 (pdf)
Field Round Robin #2 (pdf)
Field Round Robin #3 (pdf)
Field Round Robin #4 (pdf)
Field Round Robin #5 (pdf)
Field Round Robin #6 (pdf)

Analytical Round Robin #1 (pdf)
Analytical Round Robin #2 (pdf)
Analytical Round Robin #3 (pdf)
Analytical Round Robin #4 (pdf)
Analytical Round Robin #5 (pdf)
Analytical Round Robin #6 (pdf)
Analytical Round Robin #7 (pdf) - document in progress
Analytical Round Robin #8 (pdf)
Analytical Round Robin #9 (pdf) - document in progress

Project Contact:
Ray Leary

Sources, Fate, Transport, and Effects (SFTE) of Nutrients as a Basis for Protective Criteria in Estuarine and Near-Coastal Waters, Weeks Bay, Alabama

One of the principal areas of concern for the long term health of the Gulf of Mexico is the quantity of nutrients being put into estuarine and near-coastal waters from continental, land-based origins. This report summarizes a sources, fate, transport and effects (SFTE) study, the results of which are intended to provide the necessary data and combination of analyses required to support development of scientifically-sound numeric nutrient criteria in inland estuaries and to pilot an approach for developing and evaluating nutrient criteria in Weeks Bay, AL.

Project Contact:
Steven Wolfe





















GMN Implementation Planning Workshop
"Initial Agenda"
June 27, 2013 - Tampa

Contact Information

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Interim Priority Issue
Team Chair

Steve Wolfe

Florida Institute of Oceanography
Phone: (850) 765-1085
Email: shwolfe@fio.usf.edu

Priority Issue
Team Coordinator

Steve Wolfe
Florida Institute of Oceanography
Phone: (850) 765-1085
Email: shwolfe@fio.usf.edu

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Water Quality 1-Pager

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State Leadership

Fred Leslie

Phone: (334) 260-2748
Email: FAL@adem.

Steve Wolfe

(Interim PIT Chair)
Florida Institute of Oceanography
Phone: (850) 765-1085
Email: shwolfe@fio.usf.edu

Amanda Vincent
Phone: (225) 219-3654

Alice Dossett
Water Quality monitoring Section Chief
MDEQ Field Services Division Biology Lab
Phone: (601) 961-5664
Email: alice_dossett

Jim Davenport
Phone: (512) 239-4585

Leslie Koza
Phone:(361) 825-2329


Troy Pierce
Chief Scientist
Phone: (228) 688-3658
Email: pierce.troy

Chris Sinigalliano
Phone: (954) 801-4384
Email: christopher.

Workgroup Chairs

Carol Dorsey
Alabama Dept. of Public Health
Mobile Division Laboratory
Email: carol.dorsey

Janet (Jan) Moore

Alina Corcoran

Email: alina.corcoran

Alan Lewitus
NOAA, Branch Chief

Charles Kovach
@ earthlink.net

David Evans
NOAA, Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research

Fred Leslie
Phone: (334) 260-2748
Email: FAL@adem.

Richard Rebich
USGS, Mississippi Water Science Center