■ BY SUE ERWIN
Grab your snorkel and mask and scan the sea floor for scallops on Saturday, August 10, along with a group of volunteers as they search the seagrass in Lemon Bay.
The annual one-day survey for scallops and clams takes place every year in August. The event has been taking place for many years in Gasparilla Sound and Lemon Bay, with the exception of last year, when red tide made it impossible.
In April, biologists from the University of South Florida released about 6 million bay scallop larvae into the waters of Charlotte Harbor. Bay scallops in Florida live only about one year, and summer is a perfect time to check on them.
Scallops have wavy shells, which makes them easy to identify when you scan the sandy sea floor. Clamshells are smoother, but clams also live on the bottom of the sea.
Betty Staugler, Florida sea grant agent with USF, said she could use up to 150 volunteers for the scallop/clam survey. “We could use two more teams by Hog Island on the Myakka River or at Pirate Harbor,” Staugler said.
Many scallop volunteers from previous years will likely return, according to Staugler.
These surveys serve several purposes. They monitor whether water quality is increasing or decreasing. They also monitor whether sea creatures and plants are increasing or decreasing, and they show whether projects to increase the number of scallops and clams are working.
Ernesto Lasso de la Vega is a biologist for Lee County and is a Charlotte County resident. He volunteers for these surveys in three counties: Sarasota, Charlotte and Lee.
“Being a surveyor is a rewarding experience that brings you in touch with the environment of Southwest Florida, and helps you feel like you’re helping to take care of it,” he said. “It’s also fun.”
The age range of volunteers has been from as young as 13 all the way to people in their 70s
Seagrass and shellfish like scallops are indicators of the health of the estuary. They also maintain the health of the estuary. Bivalves, including scallops, clams and oysters, filter the water of the bays and estuaries while they are feeding.
Water quality is affected by nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, run- off from septic systems, sewer spills, ranching, agriculture and home lawn care.
In recent years, state agencies such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have experimented with seeding the waters of the Gulf Coast with scallops. One goal is to see if they can become self-sustaining. That is the purpose of the upcoming survey.
For more information, visit ifas.ufl.edu. or call (941) 764-4346.