The Second Annual Sarasota Bay Great Scallop SearchFrom the July 29, 2009 Issue
With increased water quality and citizen participation in the
health of the bay, grass flats like this one on the east side
of the Sister Keys can support healthy populations of scallops.
The mid-day sun was high overhead as 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 world. We had been in the water less than 10 minutes when Leverone called my attention to a scallop he had just found on the seagrass 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.
When the newly formed Sarasota Bay Watch held their first Scallop Search on August 23, 2008 the news got even better when participants in the half day event located and documented over 900 scallops from Big Pass in Sarasota to the Kitchen Key near Cortez.
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, discrete local populations.) Scallops only live between 12-18 months. They spawn in the fall, have a two-week free swimming larval period, and then develop a shell. Once they have a shell 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 their 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 Second Annual Sarasota Bay Great Scallop Search will once again be conducted by Sarasota Bay Watch. The group is committed to preserving and restoring Sarasota Bay's ecosystem (Anna Maria Sound to Venice Inlet) through community education and citizen participation. The event is free and will be based at the Sarasota Outboard Club adjacent to Mote Marine and Save Our Seabirds on City Island. This is a great chance to get involved in the health of the Bay by spending a few hours searching for scallops to help monitor the population in Sarasota Bay. To join in, fill out the form on the Contact Us page! This is a boating event and only a limited number of boats and their crews will be participating. All you’ll need to bring is your snorkeling gear, and a dive flag. The event is free and all participants will receive a Sarasota Bay Watch T-shirt (courtesy of the Anna Maria Island Sun) and lunch ,which will be provided by the Chiles Group. The public is invited to attend the event from noon to 1 p.m. to learn about scallops and see the results of the search. For more information and to sign up go to www.sarasotabaywatch.org/contact.html.