Join ‘The Sarasota Bay Great Scallop Search’
PHOTO/SARASOTA BAY WATCH
Sun Outdoors Editor Rusty Chinnis and
Mote scientist Jay Leverone show scallops that they found in Sarasota Bay.
The mid-day sun was high overhead as Mote staff scientist Jay Leverone and I slipped into the waters of a local flat. After adjusting our snorkels and masks, we began to survey the sandy bottom with its mix of turtle and manatee grass. The water was rising and uncharacteristically clear for August, giving us a great view of the flora and fauna that inhabited this underwater garden. We had been in the water less than 10 minutes when Leverone called my attention to a scallop he had just found on the sea grass bed. Soon after I found another scallop and within 20 minutes we had located several other specimens.
We moved south along the west side of Longboat Key sampling flats as we progressed towards New Pass. We weren’t collecting scallops to eat, (that’s illegal) but trying to see what the distribution of these unique bi-valves might be. We were scouting for the upcoming Sarasota Bay Great Scallop Search, and during our outing we found at least one scallop on every flat we visited. That might not seem impressive, but until recently scallops were not thought to be in the area at all. Now they’re showing up in impressive numbers and that’s a good sign that we need to understand and help to perpetuate. First and foremost it’s a sign that the water quality has improved and in that sense they function as the bay’s version of the canary in the mine.
Bay scallops have historically occupied inland bays and near shore waters from West Palm Beach to Louisiana. Until recently scallops were rare or non-existent in Tampa Bay, Anna Maria Sound, Sarasota Bay and Pine Island Sound. At one time all these areas had very dense scallop populations. Because of the scarcity of scallops in our area, they are illegal to harvest. Healthy populations can be found in St. Joseph Bay in northwest Florida and between the Suwannee and Weeki Wachee rivers. Now scallops are appearing in good numbers as far south as Homosassa and Crystal River.
The scallops we find in our local bays are known as bay scallops and make up a metapopulation (a population composed of smaller, discreet local populations.) Scallops only live from between 12 to 18 months. They spawn in the fall, have a two-week free swimming larval period and then develop a shell. Once they have a shel,l they settle on seagrass blades and other underwater structures where they continue to grow until late spring to early summer. Scallops then take up residence on the bay bottom where, unlike oysters and clams, they are active swimmers. By clicking their shells together, they expel water to propel themselves. Scallops are prolific (cataclysmic) spawners, and a single individual can produce more than one million eggs. Because of their short life spans, fluctuations in water quality and red tide events collapse local populations.
One of the most incredible features of the bay scallop is its multiple blue eyes. These sixty primitive tiny bright blue eyes reside in rows along a scallop’s mantle edge and have an iris, retina and optic nerve. These eyes detect motion, as well as light and dark, giving them the ability to sense a predator so that they can close their shells or clap their shells to swim away from danger. Scallops can also easily re-grow a lost or injured eye.
The Sarasota Bay Great Scallop Search will be conducted by the newly formed Sarasota Bay Watch a 501c3 nonprofit organization committed to preserving and restoring Sarasota Bay's ecosystem (Anna Maria Sound to Venice Inlet) through community education and citizen participation. The group will be celebrating its launch by hosting this search. If you have a boat and would like to spend a few hours searching for scallops to help monitor the population in Sarasota Bay, fill out the form on the Contact Us page! Registration is already underway, so if you are interested I encourage you to register today as this is a boating event and only a limited number of boats (30) and their crews will be participating. The event is free and all participants will receive a Sarasota Bay Watch T-Shirt and lunch. The public is invited to attend the event from noon to 1 p.m. to learn about scallops from Jay Leverone and see the results of the search. For more information on the Scallop Search and to sign up, go to (www.sarasotabaywatch.org)