Sarasota Bay Watch Happenings by Larry Stults

Clamtastic banner w_o SYC jpegIt’s that time of the year! Our annual fundraiser, Scallopalooza, is just around the corner. Come out to the Sarasota Yacht Club on September 24th to show your support for community-driven efforts to protect and restore Sarasota Bay. Go to sarasotabaywatch.org for more information and to register. Sign up soon – last year there was a waiting list! This year we’ve added a new phrase to the fundraiser’s name – “It’s Clamtastic” – because Sarasota Bay Watch is expanding our marine species restoration to include southern hardshell clams. Clams used to be abundant in Sarasota Bay according to old timers remember stubbing their toes on them when walking the grass flats, but now they are scarce and hard to find.

Like bay scallops, clams are great filter feeders that constantly clean the bay’s water. And like scallops they are a tremendous source of food for crabs, rays, fish and a wide range of life in the bay. Unlike scallops, which live for only about 1 year, clams can live for 30 years or more, and they are resistant to red tide. Clams are a perfect addition to our shellfish restoration program and there is a real need to help re-establish vibrant and stable clam populations in Sarasota Bay and surrounding waters.

Speaking of scallops, Sarasota Bay Watch volunteers, Mote Marine Laboratory scientists and Bay Shellfish Co. hatchery experts, recent traveled to Anclote Key to collect adult scallops to use as brood stock for upcoming scallopbreeding. Meanwhile, scallops from last year that Mote Senior Scientist Jim Culter has been lovingly growing over the past months, are now maturing adults getting ready to reproduce. We, along with Sarasota County, Mote Marine Laboratory are measuring, cleaning and maintaining over 500 of these nascent breeders in cages in Sarasota Bay, Roberts Bay and Lemon Bay. The cages protect the scallops from predators, and keep them together to promote natural spawning and increase the chances of successful fertilization.

In other news, we just completed our 9th Annual Scallop Search! It was a beautiful day and over 120 volunteers brought their snorkeling equipment and boats to the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, our host for the event, to fan out across the bay in search of scallops. This year we found only 7 live scallops! – a very disappointing number. A Mote scientist pointed out that last year’s red tide incursions into the bay were quite high at times, and that the spikes in red tide organism numbers were probably high enough to kill scallops in the bay. Despite the low scallop count volunteers saw lots of marine life in the grass flats, and it was a great family event for parents and children alike.

Finally, we recently partnered with Venice’s Suncoast Reef Rovers to support their underwater cleanups of Sharkey’s Pier, the North Jetty and the South Jetty. So far divers have collected close to 1000 pounds of marine debris, which we are sorting and measuring. We will share this data with NOAA’s marine debris experts. The next dive will be on the North Jetties, September 4th. Contact Larry Stults at (941) 961-3837 if you’d like to be a top-side volunteer to assist the divers.

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