Sarasota Bay Watch begins historic scallop restoration
PHOTOS PROVIDED/RUSTY CHINNIS
A blue-eyed beauty of a bay scallop.
On Friday, Dec. 9, Sarasota Bay Watch (SBW) instituted a revolutionary restoration project in Sarasota Bay. In multiple locations from Manatee County to Sarasota County SBW released close to 3 million scallop larvae over healthy grass beds. The group accessed the location with boats provided by Cannons Marina on Longboat Key. SBW considers the scallop restoration a true legacy project. Sarasota Bay Watch is undertaking a sustained, multi-year restoration effort, releasing scallops multiple times a year.
Bay scallops don't have the charismatic appeal of dolphins and manatees, but they are regarded by the scientific community as a vital indicator species. During the 1960s, when pollution and development was at its height, sea grass beds were negatively impacted as were fish, shrimp, and scallops. "Scallops are one of the most complex organisms in the bay," said John Ryan, also a co-founder of SBW and the brains and inspiration behind the scallop restoration program.
The money to grow the hatchlings was raised at an event called Scallopalooza, hosted by the Sarasota Yacht Club, which has been a fixture of the Sarasota waterfront since 1926. The scallops were grown at Bay Shellfish Company in Terra Ceia. Owner Curt Hemmel, a pioneer in the development of processes to raise and feed shellfish prior to seeding (he raises clams and oysters primarily) provided the scallops that were released. Hemmel has developed the ability to grow the larval scallops to a point at which they are ready to go into what is known as their "attachment" phase. By introducing the scallop larvae at this critical point they are far less likely to fall victim to predation.
Hemmel is something of a perfectionist, and waited until the scallops had a successful spawn and he was confident that they would be viable to be released into open bay waters. When conditions were right I was contacted by Ryan and we hurriedly arranged for the release. In less than 24 hours we were able to mobilize the press and get the scallops to Cannons Marina to begin the release.
We got the word that the scallops were ready on Thursday, Dec. 8, and were advised that the optimum time for release would be the next day. We could have released the scallops on Saturday, but this would have meant that many of them would be attached to our release buckets. The process would have required scraping them from the containers (some attached anyway) which would mean we would lose some. The timing of the process is that critical. Fortunately Ryan had sourced buckets and equipped them with aerators in anticipation of Hemmel's call.
As it turned out, we were able to meet Hemmel at Bay Shellfish, get the scallops in buckets with clean and temperature balanced water and to Cannons Marina for the release. During the release I was assisted by Interim SBW Director Andy Mele and David Miller in deploying half the scallops near Cortez and the Sister Keys. John Ryan, Larry Stults and David Shafer released the balance in the Sarasota County waters of Longboat Key and near the Sarasota Yacht Club adjacent to Bird Key.
Sarasota Bay Watch is a not-for-profit organization formed to protect and restore Sarasota Bay through community education and citizen participation. SBW is committed to being an "all inclusive, business oriented" organization. The focus of SBW is totally on doing projects and creating awareness of the importance of a healthy bay. Their motto is "A Healthy Bay is Everybody's Business."