More than 100 volunteers on 30 vessels went on an important quest in the Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay. As part of a resource-monitoring program, volunteers snorkeled the waters in search of the elusive bay scallop.
"Preliminary numbers look great," said Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Laboratory Director Dr. Eric Milbrant.
Volunteers counted 1,027 bay scallops in Pine Island Sound during the 2011 scallop search Aug. 13 hosted by SCCF and the Lee County Sea Grant Extension program. This year's number is compared with just 335 in 2010, the inaugural scallop search in Pine Island Sound.
Photo provided by SCCF
Lindsay Castret, left, and Hana Nardi search
seagrass in the Pine Island Sound for the elusive bay scallop during the 2011 Pine Island Sound Scallop search conducted Aug. 13. Volunteers like Castret and Nardi counted more than 1,000 scallops.
"While even low numbers are still important data," said Milbrant. "It is nice to see scallop populations looking good this year."
In the mid-1960s, large populations of the bay scallop disappeared from the Southwest Florida waters due in large part to degraded water quality, related declines in seagrass coverage and over-harvesting among other causes. Water quality and seagrasses have improved in many areas to levels that may once again support these important bivalves.
"We targeted hot spots for restoration and sustainability," Milbrant explained.
In 2005, SCCF Marine Lab released juvenile scallops with hopes they would flourish in our back-bay waters. However, scallops typically only live one year before they die off naturally or are eaten by crabs, octopuses or a variety of shell-crushing finfish. As prolific spawners, a single scallop can produce more than 1 million eggs per spawn. But because they are heavily preyed upon only one in a million reach adulthood.
While survey data, like what was collected on Aug. 13, has demonstrated the bay scallop population may be recovering, they are not yet at sustainable levels as large fluctuations in population densities are seen from year to year. Since 1993, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has reviewed the status of the fishery after the first scallop search was conducted in Tampa Bay.
Key to the long-term success of this species, according to FWC, is a stable population over several years and covering a large enough area to compensate for localized losses, such as those expected during a redtide or storm event.