Help Tampa Bay Watch Monitor the Return of the Bay Scallop on Saturday, August 22nd
TIERRA VERDE - Tampa Bay Watch and Tampa Bay Estuary Program have teamed up again to sponsor the Great Bay Scallop Search, a resource monitoring program where volunteers snorkel to search for scallops in select areas within Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa Bays. The event has been conducted annually since 1993. The purpose of this program is to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. Tampa Bay Watch is recruiting 45 boats with more than 180 participants to search selected sites for the elusive bay scallops. Registration for the Great Bay Scallop Search is required and has begun on www.tampabaywatch.org.
Some years, volunteers find many scallops and other years they don't. Factors that may affect the scallop population include red tide, high rainfall and storms. An all time event high of 624 scallops were found in 2008. Tampa Bay Watch is optimistic to find even more scallops in 2009. "We can witness the health of the bay by tracking the number of scallops found each year", says Peter Clark, Executive Director 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."
The Great Bay Scallop Search is Tampa Bay Watch's most popular volunteer event each year. Not only does it offer the opportunity to bring attention to the bay's valuable resources, but it also promotes hands-on volunteerism and education to families and residents of the estuary. Many first time as well as "seasoned" scallop searchers comment on the bay wildlife they see under the water during the event. Even if a search team does not find their elusive scallop prey, fun is always had by all!
Registered scallop searchers will meet at 9 a.m. at the eastern side of the Fort De Soto Boat Ramp on Saturday, August 22 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 three inches and spend their short twelve to eighteen month life span hiding in seagrasses of waters like 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 resulting in long term growth of seagrass beds.
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. Tampa Bay Watch, Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation are working to increase the bay scallops in our area by raising scallops in laboratories and releasing the juveniles into the Bay. Although bay scallops are edible, it is illegal to harvest scallops in Tampa Bay in order for restoration efforts to be successful.
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