A one-of-its-kind project involving hundreds of thousands of clams is proactively supporting healthier Tampa Bay waters off Port Manatee.
Port Manatee is partnering with Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, the Gulf Shellfish Institute and Manatee County-based Bay Shellfish Co. in the clam restoration endeavor, which is bringing about clearer waters and, in turn, helping many native species to thrive.
Dr. Bruce Barber, professor of marine science at Eckerd and executive director of the Gulf Shellfish Institute, said he believes this is the first such large-scale attempt to utilize clam restoration to enhance seagrass beds. And, according to Barber, early success indicates that the project is repeatable, meaning similar efforts may be fruitfully undertaken locally and throughout the world.
The project began about a year ago, with the planting off Port Manatee of some 600,000 juvenile clams of the native species mercenaria campechiensis, provided by the Bay Shellfish hatchery, located on Terra Ceia Island in northern Manatee County.
Initially, clam seeds were kept under netting to protect them from predators, and they have now been released from the netting and placed under cover nets, allowing them to safely fulfill their mission of filtering nitrogen, phosphorous and chlorophyll-a from water while feeding on phytoplankton and furnishing natural fertilizer for indigenous seagrass.
Thus, the seagrass, with ample sunlight penetrating the clearer water and benefiting from abundant nutrients, provides shelter and protected nursery areas for a full range of Tampa Bay marine species.
Hundreds of thousands of the clams remain and, with decades-long life spans and through subsequent reproduction, a thriving bivalve community is anticipated to continue to furnish benefits for generations to come.
Whereas similar projects in Florida and around the globe have involved other bivalves, such as oysters and scallops, the clams seem to have greater potential for highly sustainable benefits due to clams having significantly longer life expectancy than their bivalve cousins, according to Curt Hemmel, owner of Bay Shellfish.
The idea for the clam restoration project was hatched by Hemmel and Barber, along with George Isiminger, Port Manatee’s senior director of planning, engineering and environmental affairs.
The project builds upon Port Manatee’s already-enviable record of protecting and enhancing Tampa Bay’s pristine environment.
An earlier seagrass transplantation effort drew global attention and distinctions such as a Gulf Guardian Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and recognition by the American Association of Port Authorities as the Western Hemisphere’s top environmental program. Also, a bird sanctuary developed off Port Manatee at Manbirtee Key, offering a home for more than 120 avian species, has garnered EPA and AAPA recognition.
Carlos Buqueras is the executive director at Port Manatee and can be reached at email@example.com.