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Sarasota Bay Watch and The Great Scallop Search

Team Cannons Marina participated in the Great Scallop Search and we are happy to report that our divers found 32 scallops and a nice little shark feeding on the sandbar! The scallop research was administered by local and regional scientists, but it was actually the local community volunteers who went overboard into the seagrass to count the budding scallop population in Sarasota Bay. The results were as follows:

  • Total Scallops counted: 947
  • Transects covered: 36
  • Boat participating: 31
  • Snorkelers participating: 62

Some Fast Facts About Bay Scallops (provided by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program):

  • Scientific name: Argopecten irradians
  • Size: About 2 inches
  • Distribution: Throughout Florida’s west coast and as far north as West Palm Beach on the east coast
  • Habitat: Sea grass beds and shallow waters of estuaries

It was reported that the west coast of Florida lost scallop population during the 1960’s when fertilizer run off and water pollution became an issue. Currently, scallops cannot be harvested in Sarasota Bay.
Although clams may live 40 years, the life span of a bay scallop is a fleeting 12-18 months. An adult bay scallop can pump as much as 14.7 liters of water per hour by funneling water across open pathways on its gill covers. One of these pathways pumps in water containing food and oxygen, while the second expels the “cleansed” water along with waste products. Because scallops are extremely sensitive to pollution, they serve as useful “underwater canaries” to signal changes in water quality.
Scallops are a favored food of stone crabs, who have no trouble crushing the scallop’s armored shell with their powerful claws. Researchers frequently find the outside of stone crab burrows littered with broken scallop shells.
Bay scallops develop male and female sex organs, producing both sperm and eggs. Of the 12-million or so eggs a single scallop releases, only one may survive to adulthood.
Tiny blue eyes along the outer rim of the shell detect movement and serve as an early warning system for scallops.The delicious scallop meat so prized by seafood lovers is actually the scallop’s adductor muscle, which it uses to close its shell.
Bay scallops disappeared from Tampa Bay in the 1960s when the bay was badly polluted. Since implementation of the Clean Water Act (1970), water quality conditions have gradually improved in the bay, and scallops are making a tentative comeback to our bay waters. Stocking efforts by the Florida Marine Research Institute are underway to help boost scallop recovery.
The bay scallop, or Argopecten irradians has virtually disappeared from Tampa Bay. The scallop population has declined so dramatically that that it is illegal to harvest them in Tampa Bay. Since scallops are extremely vulnerable to changes in water quality, there are a number of reasons for the dwindling numbers of Argopecten irradians. Polluted bay water, red tide, and high rainfall events such as hurricanes are contributors to the decline of the scallop population.
An interesting feature of the scallop is its ability to filter water. The bay scallop is a member of the shellfish family know as bivalves (for its two halves, or shells), and grows to about 2 inches in size. Scallops feed continuously through its open valves by filtering small particles of algae and organic matter in the water. Scallops breathe with their valves open and then close them when predators approach or if the water is too silty. Silt, or particles of sediment can clog and ultimately harm the delicate gills of the scallop. Many tiny, blue eyes along the outer rim of the shell detect movement near the animal and function as a warning system. Scallops can swim backwards by clapping its valves and expelling water rapidly.