Scallop restoration takes a giant step
rusty chinnis | sun
The blue eyed scallop is the focus of restoration efforts by
Sarasota Bay Watch
Scallops are one of the most endangered of Florida’s shellfish, and that’s one of the reasons that Sarasota Bay Watch adopted them as a virtual mascot. Credit for the focus on scallops goes to John Ryan one of the founders of Sarasota Bay Watch (SBW) and a longtime advocate of restoration efforts.
Ryan knew that scallops perfectly symbolized the need to protect water quality and habitat in Sarasota Bay. Scallops are amazing creatures possessing a row of beautiful blue eyes that actually register light. Once plentiful in bay waters they fell victim to habitat loss, overharvesting, dredge-and-fill projects, pollution and harmful algae blooms known as red tides.
Efforts to begin a scallop restoration program in Sarasota Bay took off after Ryan made a presentation to the Sarasota Yacht Club and drew the attention of then Commodore Jeff Birnbach. Follow up conversation between Ryan, SBW and the Yacht Club eventually led to the fund raising event dubbed Scallopalooza. The inaugural event held at the yacht club in 2010 raised close to $10,000 and allowed SBW to begin scallop restoration.
The scallop larvae (spat) used in the restoration are produced by Curt Hemmel of Bay Shellfish Company in Terra Ceia. The shellfish are transported to waiting volunteers who release them over grass flats in the bay. Since efforts began SBW has released more than 50 million baby scallops in bay waters.
As SBW’s program began to bear fruit Michael Crosby, now President of Mote, approached SBW about teaming up to raise local awareness of scallops. The work to restore depleted populations in Sarasota Bay has gained momentum over the years as Sarasota Bay Watch teamed up with local and state groups. Mote, Sarasota County, Manatee County, the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, local businesses and many local volunteers have release hatchery-raised scallops and provided science based help with monitoring the bay for signs of recovery.
Now in an exciting development, Mote is creating a scallop nursery at its facilities on City Island, Sarasota, with plans to have it fully operational by the fall of 2014.
According to Mote, “Plans are to raise juvenile scallops to larger sizes, bolstering science-based and citizen-implemented restoration efforts in Sarasota and Manatee counties.”
On Saturday, Dec. 14, members of Sarasota Bay Watch teamed up with Mote’s staff and interns, high school students from Riverview and Sarasota high schools, and community volunteers to begin preparing space for a the new bay scallop nursery.
The students enjoyed a talk about scallops by Mote scientist Jim Cutler, and SBW President Larry Stults before taking a mini field trip to Mote’s dock to learn about the shellfish.
Mote interns Serina Sebilian and Kevin Burnette lifted bags and cages from the water under the dock and removed young scallops that were smaller than a fingernail.
“The students set aside scientific curiosity for a few moments of ‘Aww!’ and ‘How cute!’ before Sebilian described some of the challenges of scallop restoration.
“At small sizes, the scallops may be easy prey for crabs and other animals,” Sebilian said. “We want to raise the scallops to larger sizes to give them a running start.”
Hosting a scallop nursery will help Mote scientists study the life cycles of scallops and adjust release strategies to increase the probability that the scallops will survive to adulthood. Scallops grow fast, starting as tiny plankton and becoming adults capable of spawning in one year.
“We still have a lot to learn about the life history of scallops,” said Jim Culter, manager of the Benthic Ecology Program at Mote, who is overseeing the scallop nursery project.
Scallops start their lives as drifting larvae, becoming juveniles called spat that settle from the water column and attach to sea grasses. It is believed that most spat die or are eaten by predators within a short time of attaching. As they grow larger, the survivors detach from seagrasses and spend their lives on the bottom.
“We need to do more research to decide what is the best stage for releasing shellfish,” Culter said. “For example, we want to know how large the scallops need to grow before certain types of crabs will no longer eat them.
“We also want to know how many juveniles need to be released in a given area for the scallops to successfully spawn and maintain the local population. Scallops release their eggs and sperm into the water, and to ensure fertilization, they must be relatively close to another scallop.”
Culter said that a nursery at Mote brings benefits beyond research
““Mote is known for its informal science education programs, and we can bring in student interns and volunteers to learn about marine science while helping with the project.
“By creating this nursery, we’re allowing for a lot of research on the scallops and for more scallops to get out into the Bay,” SBW President Larry Stults added. “And we hope that what we accomplish here will be a model for other programs in Florida to follow.”
According to a recent news release from Mote, “The scallop restoration efforts led by Mote, Sarasota Bay Watch and other community partners have already drawn attention in the international community. Japanese scientists at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN) are studying the partnership effort as part of a global study designed to find exemplary case studies of residential research institutions – those tied closely to their communities and positioned to exchange knowledge with local communities – working closely with grass-roots citizen groups to encourage bottom-up solutions to environmental problems.
The community partnership for scallop restoration is one of only 11 case studies around the world that are part of this international effort to find the best approaches for the transfer of knowledge for sustainable use of ecosystems at local, regional, national and global levels.”
Sarasota Bay Watch is excited about the new hatchery and the science that will allow partners in the restoration effort to be more effective.
“We’re not 100 percent sure that our efforts will bring back a healthy population”, says SBW President Dr. Larry Stults, “Sarasota Bay Watch is committed to scallop restoration, but we’re also putting a laser like focus on habitat and water quality, both critical components of a healthy environment for scallops.”