At the event's 10th anniversary, more of the community than ever is getting involved.
The 10th annual Sarasota Bay Watch Scallopalooza - It's Clamtastic! is shaping up to be the biggest one yet.
In past years, the event has been held at the Sarasota Yacht Club. However, the club has a capacity of about 200. As of early February, 400 people had signed up to attend the 2020 event at the new, larger venue at the Hyatt Regency.
“We got to a point where we were just turning people away every year,” programming director Ronda Ryan said. “What that tells me is people are aware of what’s going on out there and they are passionate about the bay and making a change.”
Sarasota Bay Watch is a local organization that devotes all the resources it can get to improving the health of Sarasota Bay, and Scallopalooza is the organization’s only fundraiser during the year. It’s a community-driven event that raises money for local shellfish restoration and bay health.
The bay is the bottom line of the event that brings a wide variety of community members to the event every year, Ryan said. Everything in Sarasota comes back to the water, though many who visit the area don’t think about the health of the bay. Scallopalooza brings together local businesses, developers, restaurateurs and those who live near the water and realize that the health of the bay links to the health of Sarasota’s economy.
“We need everyone to be involved in the bay,” chairman emeritus Rusty Chinnis said. “Now after almost 12 years, we're still worried about the bay obviously; it’s still in serious trouble. But once thing we’re not worried about anymore is people's commitment because people just turned out in droves.”
The Bay Watch and its supporters have seen support grow exponentially since 2008, which Chinnis sees as a result of more people being exposed to the mission and the plight of the water, especially as red tide outbreaks such as the 2018 bloom become harder to avoid.
“I see it growing and continuing to grow, and I see it getting larger and larger,” Chinnis said. “Really, it's not our purpose just to get big, but obviously, we want to have more outreach and reach more people and get more people involved.”
In 2020, the master plan for the Bay Watch is to release a million clams into the bay this year, as part of a revitalization effort after the fierce bouts of red tide the past couple years. Clams are great at filtering the water in the bay, leading to a cleaner environment overall. The organization used to release scallops as well, but they’ve been found to be less hardy than clams when it comes to red tide. Clams also can live up to 30 years, while scallops live about a year and a half.
“We needed something hardier for the conditions we have right now,” Ryan said.
The goal with moving Scallopalooza to a new venue was to make it so that Sarasota Bay Watch never has to tell someone it’s too late to come. For those interested in helping the bay and improving water quality, Scallopalooza is an opportunity to put money directly into the hands of people going out and making changes. The funds go directly to shellfish restoration, Ryan said.
“This (Scallopalooza) has been supported by the community and it allows people to make sure that if they're interested in this, they have a way to have funds go directly to local restorations, not skimmed off into other uses” Ryan said.
They’ll purchase shellfish larva, raise them until they’re stable in a juvenile state and then release them, while working with the help of scientific agencies such as the Gulf Shellfish Institute in Manatee County.
“That's one reason it's unique because since we're not a government organization, and we don't have a lot of bureaucracy, we have more flexibility,” Ryan said. “So we're not having to pull funds off for other reasons, and we can make things happen a little faster.”
Sarasota Bay Watch is also focusing on making the bigger event more of a fun social event, with music, dancing, an open bar and auction items. Fewer presentations will allow for more time for networking, Ryan said. The auction will have a lot of experiences for attendees to bid on, including dinner certificates, sunset cruises and a shark experience with Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.
The organization is still accepting sponsorships, donations and attendees. Visit sarasotabaywatch.org for more information.