Scallop count a huge success
CITY ISLAND – Even the tropical storm that wouldn’t go away – Fay – didn’t stop the First Annual Sarasota Bay Great Scallop Search on Saturday.
Despite the rain, poor visibility and the natural camouflage of scallops in the seagrass, 947 bay scallops were counted.
"That’s a phenomenal number," said Sarasota Bay Watch executive director and Sun Outdoors Editor Rusty Chinnis. "I would have never guessed we’d find that many with the weather."
"I commend you for coming out on the day after a tropical storm," said Peter Clark, director of Tampa Bay Watch, who was on hand to help launch the inaugural event for Sarasota Bay Watch, a new group that plans to do for Sarasota Bay what the Tampa group has done for its namesake. "It’s critically important that you take an interest."
Fay wasn’t quite through with the bay on Saturday, dousing 62 dedicated volunteers in 31 boats with rain as they hunted for scallops in the seagrass beds.
Searchers snorkeled the length of a rope on both sides, then moved it a few feet to one side and snorkeled back, counting scallops as they went.
The method gives researchers a consistent measurement of the number of scallops found per square meter so they can compare future scallop populations in the same areas from year to year.
As the teams returned to City Island headquarters, Sandy Gilbert, chairman of START (Solutions To Avoid Red Tide) kept track of their finds. START was philosophically and financially instrumental in the formation of Sarasota Bay Watch, Chinnis said.
Of 36 transects, or sections, searched, volunteers found one or more scallops in 27 sections, leaving only nine sections bereft of scallops, Gilbert said. The top 10 sites accounted for 85 percent of the scallops counted; the top five sites accounted for 69 percent, he added.
"They’re really clustered," Gilbert said. "It probably means that scallop re-seeding efforts are working."
Future counts will document bay scallop population changes, Clarke said, which could lead to the lifting of the recreational and commercial ban on harvesting south of the Pasco-Hernando county line.
Hidden in the seagrass beds were anemones, purple variegated urchins, shrimp, crabs, banded tulip snails and whelks, discovered but left undocumented by the single-minded searchers.
As snorkelers approached, some scallops squirted themselves in the opposite direction, while the braver bivalves took the offensive and approached the interlopers in the best imitation of an attack that a defenseless scallop can muster.
The "click, click, click" of their shells snapping together – their only means of locomotion – was amplified underwater, sounding like a dog-training clicker.
But most scallops let their slimy, seagrass-colored camouflage do the work for them as they sat on the bay bottom, hiding.
In water stirred up by Tropical Storm Fay, searchers used the Braille method to find scallops within three meters of the rope, feeling around for the curved, ridged shells.
"It was too murky and deep," said Kennedy Hawkins, 8, who searched in vain for scallops in the bay near C’ad Zan, the John Ringling mansion. While she found only snails, her group, including Sarasota High School students Erica Workman, Melissa Dowd, Brie Heermans, Sarah Shockley and Kay Lavanness, found nine scallops among them.
"We were rained out, but it was fun even with the weather," said Kay Lavanness, who had never been on a scallop hunt before.
The group plans to return next year for the second annual Sarasota Bay Great Scallop Search, parent Chuck Lavanness said.
Other groups including Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also sent scallop searchers to the event.
"It’s going to take a concerted effort by everyone" to protect the scallop population in Sarasota Bay, Chinnis said, adding that the organization defines the bay as extending from Anna Maria Sound south to Venice.
"The numbers have been extremely low, but Sarasota Bay is fortunate," Clark said. "Because of what we’ve been able to do in the past 20 to 30 years, we’re really making a difference."
For more information about Sarasota Bay Watch, visit www.sarasotabaywatch.org.