Sarasota Bay Watch Happenings by Larry Stults

IT’S A CLAMTASTIC RESTORATION EFFORT!

“Why clams?” you may ask. Like bay scallops, southern hard clams were once abundant in our bays and waterways, but now they are virtually absent. Unlike bay scallops, which live only one year and are sensitive to red tide, the southern hard clam lives up to 30 years and actually eats red tide – helping to mitigate the harmful effects of this toxin producing algae. Finally, scallops are a favorite food for many marine animals, and they suffer from predation pressures throughout their life cycle. In contrast, due to its thick protective shell, adult southern hard clams are virtually predator free (except for human harvesting), yet larval and juvenile clams provide a rich source of food for local fisheries.

So while we love bay scallop restoration and will continue to work towards re-establishing scallop populations in our bays, we decided to turn our experience and platoon of enthusiastic volunteers to clam restoration as well. And we are now off and running! START generously provided seed funding to create a matching challenge, and our community rose to the challenge in a big way! These donations along with a gift from the Disney Conservation Fund have provided the springboard to kick start this effort.

Currently, our good friends at Bay Shellfish Co. are growing over 300,000 southern hard clams in the hatchery for SBW. In the next weeks our new partner Aaron Welch of Two Docks, a commercial clam farmer, will help us out by deploying these young clams in fine mesh bags on his submerged lands to grow them to near adult stage animals. Sarasota Bay Watch volunteers will then take over and release these hardy clams into the bay on the sea grass beds and sand flats. We hope they will nestle into their new homes and quietly filter water (about 50 gallons/day/clam!) for the next 30 years. In doing so they will be cleaning our bays and increasing transparency of our water, which in turn supports healthier and more abundant sea grass, while at the same time reproducing to increase their number across the bay and in our waterways.

Wish us luck!

Photo by Rusty Chinnis

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