Inspired to make a difference
From the September 1, 2010 Issue
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
Jay Leverone holds a banded tulip, a right
handed whelk and a pen shell he found while
snorkeling in Tampa Bay for scallops.
On Saturday, Aug. 28, I had the pleasure of spending a morning on the water with Jay Leverone, senior scientist with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and Walt Avery, who recently retired after 30 years as head of bay studies for the city of Tampa. We were attending the Tampa Bay Watch Great Bay Scallop Search, now in its 16th year. The purpose of the search was to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. Last year Tampa Bay Watch found a record 674 scallops. It was the fifth year in a row that the scallop numbers had increased, leading Tampa Bay Watch organizers to the conclusion that improving water quality, helped by habitat restoration efforts and storm water controls, might be improving the odds for scallops. Saturday's count of only 32 scallops proved a disappointment and left organizers and scientists puzzled.
The Sarasota Bay Watch scallop search on Aug. 21 turned up only 15 of the blue-eyed mollusks, down for the third year in a row. Two more scallop searches in Charlotte Harbor (162 found on Aug. 18) and Pine Island Sound (335 found on Aug. 28) helped cement the point. Water quality isn't the sole criteria for scallop abundance in the waters from Tampa to Ft Myers. We didn't find any scallops in our transects near Tarpon Key Saturday , but I learned that science still has a lot to learn on the subject of water quality. The one thing that everyone could agree on was that water quality is critical to a healthy and vibrant bay. The other lesson I took away from the experience is the need for a citizens' initiative to convince grant providers to fund the critical research being done by these dedicated scientists.
Scallops are an indicator of water quality, but there's more going on than we know. Leverone recently took issue with news reports that implied that low scallop count might portended a bay in trouble. He wanted to make sure the public knows that the water quality in Sarasota Bay is the best it has been in many years. Recent scallop counts are proving him right. Apparently, and not surprisingly , the population dynamics are complex. According to Leverone, "When counts and spat (larval scallop) surveys were low in Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island, they were high in the Tampa region waters."
And while it has to be admitted that scallop populations are much more variable than we ever imagined, they definitely require good water quality to survive. The good news is they are adaptable and available to repopulate area waters when the conditions are right. That's just the kind of work groups like Tampa Bay Watch and Sarasota Bay Watch are doing and why your membership and participation are so important. When people get wet, get their heads under the water and observe the stunning diversity of sea life, they are inspired to make a difference.