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Marine Environmental Specimen Bank


The Marine Environmental Specimen Bank (Marine ESB), established by NIST in 2001 at the Hollings Marine Laboratory (HML) in Charleston, South Carolina, cryogenically banks well-documented environmental specimens collected as part of other agency marine research and monitoring programs. Specimens include marine mammal tissues, mussels and oysters, fish tissues, seabird eggs, and peregrine falcon eggs and feathers. Many of these specimens are being analyzed retrospectively to determine time trends in emerging contaminants of concern in the environment and as part of a multi-agency effort to determine health trends in marine animals. 


The long-term preservation of representative environmental specimens for deferred analysis and evaluation is not only a valuable component of real-time monitoring and basic research, but it also enables investigators to extend their research into the past and provides for future verification of analytical results. Formal environmental specimen banking is recognized internationally as an integral part of long-term environmental research and monitoring. The establishment of the Marine ESB in association with the HML has resulted in a renewed interest and expansion in specimen banking as part of marine environmental monitoring and health research. This bank is an important resource of research materials that are used to document geographic and temporal trends in “new” pollutants, changes in transport and accumulation of “old” pollutants in the environment that might be related to climate change, and study temporal changes in marine animal health through application of future new analytical and biochemical techniques.

Additional Technical Details:

Other agency programs collaborating with NIST and providing specimens and funding support to the Marine ESB are: the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Mussel Watch Program of NOAA, the Seabird Tissue Archival and Monitoring Project of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (with supplemental funding from the North Pacific Research Board), and the American Peregrine Falcon Monitoring Plan of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Marine ESB also maintains specimens collected by past collaborating programs, including the National Status and Trends Program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Mussel Watch Program, and the EXXON VALDEZ Damage Assessment Program. The Marine ESB includes carefully designed and published specimen collection and banking protocols, computerized sample tracking (chain-of-custody) systems, maintenance of many forms of data associated with original specimens, and a large investment in a state-of-the art facility and equipment required to store specimens over relatively long periods of time. The bank emphasizes cryogenic storage using ultra-cold (-80 °C) electric freezers and liquid nitrogen vapor (-150 °C) freezers with continuously monitored security systems. Freezers are maintained in an ISO Class 7 clean air laboratory. Specimens selected for analysis are cryogenically homogenized in an adjoining ISO Class 5 clean room and divided into aliquots for analysis and/or continued cryogenic storage.

Major Accomplishments:     

  • Provided marine mammal tissue and seabird egg specimens for investigating temporal and geographic trends of organotin compounds in the Alaska Arctic and Subarctic marine environment     
  • Provided tissue samples for determining temporal trends in emerging contaminants in beluga whales as part of a NOAA study on the health of an isolated population of these whales in Cook Inlet, Alaska     
  • Provided marine mammal tissue and seabird egg specimens for a study on use of mercury isotopes coupled with carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes to determine sources of mercury in the environment and the effects of food webs on this determination

Marine Environmental Specimen Bank

Marine Environmental Specimen Bank

Start Date:

October 1, 2001

End Date:


Lead Organizational Unit:




Amanda J. Moors
Rebecca S. Pugh
Jennifer M. Ness
Melannie J. Bachman
Debra Ellisor
Jennifer Trevillian

Associated Products:

Arctos Database

Pugh, RS, PR Becker, BJ Porter, MB Ellisor, AJ Moors, and SA Wise. 2008. Design and applications of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST’s) environmental specimen banking programs. Cell Preservation Technology 6(1):59-72.

Vander Pol, S and PR Becker. 2007. Monitoring contaminants in seabirds: the importance of specimen banking. Mrine Ornithology. 35:113-118.

Vander Pol, SS, MB Ellisor, RS Pugh, PR Becker, DL Poster, MM Schantz, SD Leigh, BJ Wakeford, DG Roseneau, and KS Simac. 2007. Development of a murre (Uria spp.) egg control material.  Anal. Bioanal. Chem. 387: 2357-2363.

Point, D, WC Davis, SJ Christopher, MB Ellisor, RS Pugh, PR Becker, OFX Donard, BJ Porter, and SA Wise. 2007. Development and application of an ultratrace method for speciation of organotin compounds in cryogenically archived and homogenized biological materials. Anal. Bioanal. Chem. 387:2343-2355.

Becker, PR, EW Gunter, C Schlüter, Y Shibata, and SA Wise. 2006. Special Issue – International Environmental Specimen Banking. J. Environ. Monit. 8(8).

Stapleton, HM, NG Dodder, JR Kucklick, CM Reddy, MM Schantz, PR Becker, F. Gulland, BJ Porter, and SA Wise. 2006. Temporal trends of anthropogenic and naturally produced brominated compounds in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), 1993 to 2003. Mar. Poll. Bull. 52(5):522-531.

Paul R. Becker
Phone 843-762-8861

Rebecca S. Pugh
Phone 843-762-8952

Stephen A. Wise
Phone 301-975-3112