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Pine Island Sound Scallop Search

 

Of the marine bivavle mollusks in Florida, none is a better indicator of water quality than the lowly bay scallop. In the Big Bend Region of Florida where the water quality is better, a sustainable scallop population thrives enough to support a recreational scallop season. In Southwest Florida, however, the declining water quality over the past decades has decimated the once plentiful scallop population. However, scallops are slowly making a comeback. Increased awareness of the fragility of our estuarine ecosystems led by organizations like Florida Sea Grant, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation has led to a resurgence of this modest, yet really really tasty mollusk. But you can't harvest them here in SWFL. Yet.

So that's why when I got the call from Rookery Bay Education Queen (official title?) Sarah Falkowski about a scallop search happening in Pine Island Sound, my response was immediate and succinct. "Yes." My second though was, "Yum.", however I quickly realized that during scientific sampling it's generally frowned upon to remove your data from the field. A half dozen or so other people committed and then uncommitted in the weeks leading up, and in the end it was only Sarah and me. More scallops for us... to count. 

After speaking with event organizer Joy Hazell with UF/IFAS the night before to make some major changes, our backup plan went into action. The DoFloridaRight canoe was loaded into the back of the truck with ample scalloping gear, and the next morning we were on our way. Upon arriving, however, plans changed yet again-- this time for the better. Instead of paddling out to our spot on another 95 degree stagnant Florida summer day, we were able to join up with Captain Greg and his wife Alessia on their Carolina Skiff, who had arrived in Florida by way of Oklahoma and Peru, respectively. 

The short orientation at Pineland Marina led us next to Four Winds Marina (of Pirate fame), where our hosts had their boat. A quick ride led us out toward Cayo Costa where our transect was to explore. No sooner did we put down the power pole and jump in the water than Alessia had found a large scallop. No matter that it was out of search area so it didn't officially count. This was going to be easy! We stretched our guide lines out 150ft from the boat and set off on our first search. 

Nada. 

The second transect turned up 2 scallops in the 60mm range, both courtesy of Sarah. While they were searching I was goofing around farther up the grass flat and found one of my own. Again though, being outside of our search transect, this one didn't count. 

The third and fourth transects didn't turn up any more living scallops, but we did see a wide array of sea life all around us throughout the day. Everything from dolphins chasing fish off the flats, hermit crabs, pinfish, clams, and schools of bait fish were swimming or crawling around in the grass almost constantly. The sea grass of Pine Island truly supports a tremendous variety of life. 

Keep our coastal waters beautiful, and they will thank us for it. With scallops. Yum. 

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