Seabirds are an important group of upper trophic-level marine organisms with potential for accumulating lipophilic contaminants. Analyses of seabird tissues, particularly eggs, have played important roles in temporal and spatial environmental monitoring of persistent organic pollutants (POPs—e.g., PCBs, chlorinated pesticides) and mercury in Canada and Europe. Through real-time analysis, specimen banking, and future retrospective analysis, the project will provide a means to monitor both legacy environmental contaminants and chemicals of emerging environmental concern and provides the capability to verify analytical results by accessing banked samples and reanalyzing them using more sensitive and accurate methods in the future.
In 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS-AMNWR), the U.S. Geological Survey Biological Resources Division (USGS-BRD), and NIST implemented the Seabird Tissue Archival and Monitoring Project (STAMP) to monitor contaminants in Alaska's marine environments. In 2010, the 111th Congress directed NIST to expand this and other programs into the U.S. Pacific Islands.
STAMP was designed as an ongoing long-term effort to track geographic and temporal trends in environmental quality by collecting seabird eggs using standardized protocols, processing and banking the contents under conditions that ensure chemical stability during long-term (decadal) storage, and analyzing subsamples of the stored material to determine baseline levels of persistent bioaccumulative contaminants (e.g., chlorinated pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], brominated flame retardants [polybrominated diphenyl ethers—PBDEs], butyltin compounds, and mercury). The seabird egg collection is maintained in NIST's Marine Environmental Specimen Bank at the Hollings Marine Laboratory with aliquots available to other researchers.
- Temporal and geographic trends in the level of contaminants in the major marine regions of Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific Islands are being established through the analysis of seabird egg specimens banked at the Marine Environmental Specimen Bank.
- Banked seabird egg specimens are being used in a study to use mercury isotopes coupled with carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes to determine sources and cycling of mercury in the environment and the effects of food webs on this determination.
- STAMP is internationally recognized as a contributor to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme and in 2008 was designated as a component of the international AMAP/CAFF Coordinated Monitoring Effort.
Additional Technical Details
Since 1999, STAMP has collected and banked eggs from nine species of seabirds (common and thick-billed murre, glaucous and glaucous-winged gull, black-legged kittiwake, black-footed and Laysan albatross, brown booby, and sooty tern)
- Eggs are processed in Alaska by USFWS and in Hawaii by Hawaii Pacific University; morphometric measurements are taken before cutting the shell in half and harvesting the entire contents into a Teflon bag which is homogenized in a bag mixer and then aliquoted into Teflon jars and polypropylene cryovials which are frozen and sent to the Marine Environmental Specimen Bank
- Aliquots of some of the eggs have been analyzed for organic contaminants and mercury (including stable isotopes) by the NIST environmental chemistry laboratories
- Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes have been analyzed by Keith Hobson at Environment Canada to provide complementary information on foraging strategies
- Chemicals of emerging concern are being analyzed by Da Chen at Southern Illinois University to complement the mostly past-use contaminants analysis by NIST
- As many of the albatross eggs at Midway Atoll were unidentified species, genetic analysis is being performed by Simon Yung Wa Sin at Harvard
- Statistical comparisons have been made by Matthew Gribble's laboratory at Emory University