Volunteers taking part in the Tampa Bay Watch Great Bay Scallop Search search for scallops in select areas within Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa bays.
TIERRA VERDE – Tampa Bay Watch is recruiting volunteer boats to participate in the Great Bay Scallop Search set for Saturday, Aug. 20.
The event is a resource-monitoring program where community volunteers snorkel to search for scallops in select areas within Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa bays. The event has been conducted annually since 1993 with the goal to monitor and document the health and status of the local bay scallop population. Tampa Bay Watch will coordinate 40 volunteer boaters with more than 180 participants to search selected sites for the elusive bay scallops. Volunteers with shallow draft boats are still needed for the event. For information, visit tampabaywatch.org.
“We can witness the health of the bay by tracking the number of scallops found each year,” says Peter Clark in a press release. Clark is president of Tampa Bay Watch. “Every year we hope the number of scallops found increases, which means that water quality and habitat are also improving in our estuary.”
Some years, volunteers find many scallops and other years they don’t. Factors that may affect the scallop population include water quality, red tide, high rainfall and storms. An all-time high for the event was 674 scallops, found in 2009.
Bay scallops, disappeared from Tampa Bay in the early 1960s when the bay water was highly polluted from dredging operations and industrial and municipal wastes. Tampa Bay’s water quality and seagrass beds have since improved to levels that will once again support the bay scallop population. In fact, a 2014 research by Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management Program states that Tampa Bay now supports 40,295 acres of seagrass beds, an equivalent amount of seagrass measured as in the 1950s.
Reservations are required for the Great Bay Scallop Search. Registered scallop searchers will meet Saturday, Aug. 20, 9 a.m., at the Fort De Soto boat ramp in Tierra Verde to receive survey equipment and instructions for the monitoring event.
At each site, a weighted transect line 50 meters in length is laid along seagrass beds. Snorkelers count scallops along each side of the transect line, within one meter of each side, creating a 100 square meter survey area.
Bay scallops – or Argopecten irradians – are secretive bivalves in the same family as clams and oysters. They may reach a shell size of 3 inches, and they spend their short 12- to 18-month lifespan hiding in waters with seagrasses like those of Tampa Bay. Scallops are filter feeders, therefore they are highly sensitive to changes in water quality and can be used to measure an ecosystem’s health and signal changes in water quality. Adult bay scallops can pump as much as 15.5 quarts of water per hour, improving water quality that results in long-term growth of seagrass beds. Although bay scallops are edible, it is illegal to harvest scallops in Tampa Bay in order for restoration efforts to be successful.
The 2016 Scallop Search is sponsored by the Sea World Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, RBC Blue Water Project and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
Tampa Bay Watch is a nonprofit 501(c)3 stewardship program dedicated exclusively to the charitable and scientific purpose of protecting and restoring the marine and wetland environments of the Tampa Bay estuary encompassing over 400 square miles of open water and 2,300 square miles of highly-developed watershed. Tampa Bay Watch involves more than 10,000 youth and adult volunteers each year in hands on habitat restoration projects.
For information on upcoming events, or to become a volunteer or member, visit www.tampabaywatch.org, or call 727-867-8166.