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Docks doing their part to make Pine Island Sound healthy

By Staff | Mar 23, 2009

Local dock owners in Captiva, Sanibel and Pine Island have signed up to help reestablish the once thriving and now virtually non-existent bay scallop population in Pine Island Sound.

This local effort to restore populations is only part of a larger project under the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI).

According to FWRI, bay scallops (scientific name is Argopecten irradians) are bivalve molluscs that occur in localized populations along Florida’s west coast, from Pine Island Sound to St. Andrew Sound near Panama City.

Pine Island Sound used to host a massive scallop population which has been all but decimated in recent years.

SCCF’s Mark Thompson is leading local attempts at reintroducing a healthy scallop population back into Pine Island Sound.

“The population is currently very low, almost non-existent,” Thompson said.

Thompson says SCCF has been a part of the FWRI’s far-reaching project since February, but already, the volunteers are seeing positive – and encouraging – results.

The data Thompson collects from volunteers is then used to determine which, if not all, areas of the sound are conducive to fostering healthy scallop populations to the point of maturity, which takes about a year.

“We hope they can keep them alive long enough to spawn,” Thompson said.

Scallop larvae, once spawned, swim away from the docks to find seagrass habitats, where they are protected and find easy food (scallops are filter feeders) and eventually establish a new scallop population.

One of the volunteer docks that’s made a perfect home for one particular fledgling population juts out into the sound just behind Jensen’s Marina.

“It’s interesting. It’s very exciting. I think if the goal is to see if these can be reintroduced, I think that’s a huge thing for our area, for our tourist economy, and I’m just very excited about it,” said Dave Jensen, owner of Jensen’s Twin Palm Cottages and Marina.

He’s been growing scallops off of his dock for the past few weeks with the help of a Jensen resort regular, John Glaessgen.

Jensen enlisted Glaessgen because of his experience with growing oysters at his home up north.

“He knew of my involvement [with] the Cornell Cooperative Extension that has a community volunteer program for the reestablishment of scallops, oysters and clams in Peconic Bay. That program is about eight or nine years old and it’s very successful and it’s probably about 150 families that have volunteered into it,” said Glaessgen, noting that he’s been raising oysters on his dock in New York for eight years.

“It’s an effort that I think is working, because I’m starting to get a breeding population and I can tell that because I have baby oysters clinging to my adult oysters. That’s kind of proof-in-the-pudding that it’s working,” he added.

“Scallops used to be very big business in Pine Island Sound,” Glaessgen explained, adding that, while he’s not quite sure of the exact number, St. James City used to pull in thousands of pounds of scallops every year.

Glaessgen says that there is no singular factor that can be pinpointed as culpable for the decline in bay scallop populations in Pine Island Sound, but he’s hoping that his efforts and those of other dedicated volunteers will help reestablish a healthy, thriving scallop population.

To get started, Glaessgen attended the SCCF’s informational meeting about the bay scallop recruitment process, where he along with approximately 18 other volunteers received training, materials and a fledgling population of 30 scallops.

Once a week, Jensen and Glaessgen go out to the dock to measure each scallop and make sure they’re still healthy.

“When we measure and see that they’ve grown and they’re healthy, it’s exciting,” Jensen said.

Glaessgen said that the Jensen scallops are coming up on their fourth measurement session and they’ve been steadily growing 3 millimeters a week and with zero mortality.

Thompson says that he hopes to continue the Bay scallop recruitment project in years to come.

“Hopefully we can reestablish a healthy scallop population,” Thompson said, noting that so far, volunteers have reported very few mortalities among their individual recruitment populations.

If you have questions about the project, please contact the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Marine Laboratory at 395-4617.