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Volunteers needed for scallop search in Pine Island Sound

By Staff | Aug 5, 2011

Jeff Siwicki and Nicole Martin, from Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, hold scallops that will be searched for during the second annual Pine Island Sound Scallop Search. Volunteers are needed, but space is limited; sign up now!

Enormous populations of bay scallops disappeared from Southwest Florida waters in the mid-1960s due in large part to degraded water quality, related declines in seagrass acreage and over-harvesting, among numerous causes.

Since water quality and seagrass have improved in most areas to levels that may once again support these important bivalves, the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation is teaming up with University of Florida/Lee County Sea Grant Extension program to host a second annual scallop search.

“The purpose is to find adult scallops in Pine Island Sound living in the seagrass,” said Eric Milbrandt, SCCF Marine Laboratory director.

The 2011 Pine Island Sound Scallop Search will require up to 40 boats with as many as 150 participants to search selected sites in Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay for the elusive “bay scallop.” Volunteers will have the opportunity to play a meaningful part in collecting important data.

“We are looking to monitor and document the health and status of the bay scallop population,” Milbrandt added. “We’re targeting hot spots for restoration and sustainability.”

Bay scallops, like this one, have not survived in Southwest Florida waters for several decades due to degraded water quality, related declines in seagrass acreage and over-harvesting, among several factors. On Aug. 13, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, along with the University of Florida/Lee County Sea Grant Extension program, will host the second annual Pine Island Sound Scallop Search.

This event is being modeled after the successful Great Bay Scallop Search conducted in Tampa Bay since 1993. To monitor the bay scallop populations statewide and maintain an abundant breeding population, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission began reviewing the status of the fishery that year. In 2005, SCCF Marine Lab released juvenile scallops with hopes they would flourish in our back-bay waters.

Scallops typically only live one year before they die off naturally or are eaten by crabs, octopuses or a variety of shell-crushing finfish. However, they are 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 will be collected during the scallop search, 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. 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.

Volunteers are needed for this worthwhile scallop search and SCCF is looking to recruit:

o Those with shallow-draft boats. Let them know the style and size of your boat and bring a dive flag, if you have one. Canoes and kayaks are welcome, but personal watercraft, such as jet skis, is not allowed in the search.

o Include how many additional people you can take on board so you can be paired with additional volunteer snorkelers without a boat.

Participants should bring a mask, snorkel and gloves and be able to snorkel or swim 50 meters along the bottom of the ocean fins and weight belt are optional but suggested. Scallop searchers will meet at 9 a.m. Aug. 13 at the Pineland Commercial Marina, 13921 Waterfront Drive on Pine Island, to receive survey equipment and instructions for the monitoring event. Lunch will be provided once you return to shore and report your information.

Reserve your spot now by signing up online at 2011pineislandsoundscallopsearch.eventrbrite.com or by emailing Joy at hazellje@leegov.com or call event sponsor Florida Sea Grant at 239-533-7518. The scallop search promises to be a popular event so sign up early.

Pineland Marina, Home Depot, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Friends of the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves, along with SCCF, are sponsoring this event in partnership with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Additional scallop searches are scheduled for Aug. 27 in Lemon Bay and Tampa Bay.