Results of Great Bay Scallop Search
Tierra Verde – Tampa Bay Watch coordinated the Great Bay Scallop Search on Saturday, September 10 where over 150 volunteer snorkelers surveyed 10,000 square meters of seagrasses for the elusive Bay scallop. A total of five scallops were found in lower portions of Tampa Bay around Fort De Soto Park. Despite the low count, volunteers reported the water to be surprisingly clear for all the rain in the previous week. Seagrasses were thick and lush with three different varieties being Manatee, Shoal and Turtle grasses.
Volunteers also saw a variety of marine life in the areas surveyed including mollusks, flounder, sea stars, horseshoe crabs, cownose rays, sheepshead, manatees, bonnethead and blacktip sharks indicating a healthy ecosystem and good water quality. Scallops are a sensitive species and a wide variety of conditions need to fall into place for them to thrive. The low number of scallops found is no indication that the scallop population cannot grow again in the future.
The Scallop Search has been conducted annually since 1993 with the goal to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population. It is Tampa Bay Watch’s most popular volunteer event each year.
Additional factors that may affect the scallop population include red tide, high rainfall and storms. An all time event high of 674 scallops were 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.
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. Although bay scallops are edible, it is illegal to harvest scallops in Tampa Bay in order for restoration efforts to be successful.