- August 14, 2017
On a typical day spent in the water, most people would never notice the scallops that may lie below them. These small creatures, however, are integral to the health of the ocean’s ecosystem, and more than 125 citizen scientists will go searching for them on Sarasota Bay Watch’s eighth annual scallop search Aug. 29.
“It’s important because it helps us monitor the local scallop population,” Sarasota Bay Watch Program Director Ronda Ryan said. “It also helps to guide Sarasota Bay Watch’s efforts on scallop restoration. It’s used for research.”
Searchers of all ages are invited, and there is a specific need for people with boats.
“They’re really participating as a citizen scientist,” Ryan said. “We need boaters in particular, but it’s open to families. It’s open to everyone. It’s great for kids because they are going into local waters and are probably looking at things in a different way. They’re paying attention to the grass and the marine life they wouldn’t otherwise be looking at.”
Before the search begins, volunteers will meet at Mar Vista to learn how to perform the search. They are then sent for three hours to more than 70 locations in Sarasota Bay.
Last year, the volunteers counted 40 live scallops, but in 2013, there were just 11.
“It varies every year,” Ryan said. “Part of it may be because of the challenges scallops have just with weather. Some of it is also the searchers being able to identify what the scallop is and if it’s there. Some years, we may have lower numbers because the scallops aren’t being recognized.”
The search is part of Sarasota Bay Watch’s 10-year Scallop Restoration Program, which is in its fifth year.
“We’re working on restoring scallops to the area that were once plentiful in the '60s,” Ryan said. “With the loss of habitat, the scallop population diminished.”
Scallops help diversify the species of other marine animals and also provide benefits for people by helping filter water in the bay.
Ryan will cap the number of volunteers at 125. In the past, spots go quickly and the search has always reached full capacity.
“Every year, we have to turn people away,” Ryan said.
Volunteers are asked to bring their own snorkel and an appetite for a free lunch at Mar Vista following the search.
“It’s a great time for people to get together and see each other again,” Ryan said. “The people who come tend to do it every year. It’s a very social thing to do.”