Coastal Water Nutrient Monitoring Program

Chatham Water Watchers, in cooperation with the Town of Chatham and the Pleasant Bay Alliance, collect and test water samples in Chatham's estuaries five times per summer at biweekly intervals during July and August and once in early September. Volunteers are trained by Dr. Robert Duncanson, Director of Chatham's Department of Health and Natural Resources, to directly assess water quality by measuring water clarity, salinity, temperature and dissolved oxygen content and taking water samples at varying depths. Collected data and water samples are analyzed by the UMass School of Marine Science and Technology in Dartmouth.

The program's history began in 1994 when the Massachusetts State Executive Office of Environmental Affairs endorsed a Stage Harbor Management Plan approved by Chatham's town meeting. Chatham's plan was the first to be adopted by a Massachusetts town and became a model for other towns. Friends of Chatham Waterways (FCW) aided in the development of the Stage Harbor Plan which called for the design of a water quality monitoring program in efforts to better understand and manage wastewater from homes, businesses and storm water runoff. In 1999,FCW worked cooperatively with the town to implement this plan which became the Coastal Water Nutrient Monitoring Program.

In the early years, FCW volunteers collected data that was needed for initial wastewater management planning. This data provided critical input for the Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP) for Chatham. The Total Maximum Daily Loads of nitrogen for each estuary set by the MEP is part of the basis of Chatham's Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan that has guided our sewering and plant treatment of wastewater.

In 2019, forth-three FCW Water Watcher volunteers monitored 15 stations in Chatham's estuaries, completing the 21st consecutive year of the Coastal Water Nutrient Monitoring Program. Since it is important to monitor water quality over a long period, Chatham Water Watchers will continue their work over the years ahead. Once more wastewater has begun to be treated, there will be a need for continued monitoring to assess progress against algae, low dissolved oxygen and decayed bottom sediment which contribute to the loss of plant and animal species in our waterways.

Susan Morgan and Maureen Vokey sampling in Stage Harbor.
Lauren Thonus collecting a water sample in the Mill Pond using a Niskin sampler.

If interested in Volunteering then see our 2020 Training Video below:

Friends of Chatham Waterways (FCW) Water Watchers have recently completed their 21st season of collecting water samples and data for Chatham's Coastal Water Nutrient Monitoring Program.
From 15 sampling stations in Chatham, 42 volunteers used refractometers to measure water salinity, Secchi disks to measure water depth, Dissolved Oxygen meters to record water temperature and dissolved oxygen levels, and Niskins to collect water samples for nutrient and chlorophyll content.  Their data and water samples will be analyzed by the University of Massachusetts School of Marine Science and Technology in Dartmouth.
The Coastal Water Nutrient Monitoring Program continues to provide critical back-ground data on general water quality, conditions and trends in nitrogen loading.  This year's results, along with past data, will help determine the health of the town's estuaries and track changes as Chatham implements its waste water management plan.
FCW would like to thank the following Chatham Water Watchers who set out five times this summer to monitor the town's estuaries and embayments.  Stage Harbor estuaries:  Betsy Mosser, Janet Fields, Douglas Fields, Jay Stahl, Larry Capodilupo, Bill Horrocks, Cameron Koblish, John Trimble, Bill Hayes, Kelsey Shakin,  Susan Weinz, Jeff Mason, Maureen Vokey, Sandy Giorgetti, Sarah Wilsterman,  and Alex Wilsterman;  South Coastal embayments:  Frank Messina, Peter Barry, Don Phinney, Juris Ukstins, Sherrie Burson, Dick Hosmer, John Garry, Dave Holden and Roger Donald; Pleasant Bay: Bob Samuelson, Carolyn Parker, Dick Hoyt, Joe Roller, Joe Meeks Bob Wilson, Tom Parker, Lisa Cody, Paul Cody, Michael Reilly, Elizabeth Reilly, Carole Ridley, Scott Ridley, Natalie Coleman Fuller, Bill Coleman, Dick Ingwall, and Joanne Ingwall.
The Coastal Water Nutrient Monitoring Program is organized and supervised by Dr. Robert Duncanson, Director of Chatham's Department of Natural Resources.


Every September, Friends of Chatham Waterways (FCW) Coastsweep volunteers collect trash at 21 sites alone Chatham's shoreline.  Coastsweep is run locally by FCW and is part of the Massachusetts Office off Coastal Zone Management's (CZM) annual Massachusetts Coastal Cleanup in conjunction  with the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup.

FCW provides volunteers with debris grabbers and CZM contributes trash bags and gloves for collection.  The Ocean Conservancy supplies data cards for recording site findings.  After the beach cleanups, trash  and data cards are dropped off at a Chatham location.  Debris is picked up by the town's Department of Parks and Recreation, and data cards are forwarded first to the CZM and then sent to the Ocean Conservancy in Washington for analysis and publication.  The data provided helps develop programs to reduce marine debris worldwide.

In 2019, 55 volunteers participated in the 32nd annual Coastsweep cleanup in Chatham, collecting approximately 345 lbs. of debris filling 35 trash bags.  The most numerous items picked up were cigarette butts, plastic food wrappers, plastic bottle caps, plastic and foam packaging, fishing net pieces, fishing line and balloons.  The most unusual items found were a fiberglass panel and boat hull, wooden boat floor boards, a dock piling, a mushroom anchor, a channel buoy, oyster cages, rubber tires, various articles of clothing and a Barbie Doll!

Coastsweep volunteers help to bring an awareness of the abundance of trash on the town's beaches  and of the consequent need for people to be responsible about picking up not only their own debris but also that of others too.

Ocean Conservancy's Clean Swell App

Tracking trash on the beach is important for environmental research, and you can help.  The Ocean Conservancy has created a the CleanSwell app available on both IOS and Android that allows you to report trash you have picked up on your own easily at any time and any place.

Samples of Coastsweep trash.
Susan Collins and Barbara Doyle surveying some of trash collected.
Allie, Lauren, and Alex Thonus with debris grabbers they used in Hardings Beach Coastsweep cleanup!
David McAdam and Christine Daly demonstrating debris grabbers;