- August 5, 2015
When it comes to monitoring the water quality and ecosystem of Sarasota Bay, scientists look to scallops as indicators of the bay’s overall health.
Historical trends show that scallops were widely present in the bay until humans started developing the land around it, according to Sarasota Bay Watch President Larry Stults.
That’s why the group’s annual scallop search is so important. It’s a way to help scientists monitor the local scallop population while also bringing people closer to the water.
“It’s a way to get a face in the water and get an intimate connection with the bay,” Stults said.
On Aug. 13, Sarasota Bay Watch hosted its eighth annual scallop search at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron.
At 9 a.m., volunteers departed in their boats. For the next three hours, about 140 people dove, snorkeled and swam to seek out the bivalve mollusks that live amongst the seagrass on the bottom of the bay.
Before volunteers left to search, Stults warned that not everyone would find a scallop, although he said participants still might see creatures like crabs, starfish and stingrays.
When participants returned, they enjoyed lunch while sharing what they found in the water.
In years past, the event was held at Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub, but due to construction at the restaurant, the Sailing Squadron hosted it.
When volunteers found live scallops while snorkeling around the bay, they simply counted them and left them undisturbed during the no-harvest event.
Although volunteers found eight live scallops — down from 31 in 2015 and 40 in 2014 — Sarasota Bay Watch Program Director Ronda Ryan said multiple factors could explain the low count. There was a bout with red tide last year, and the water was murky due to recent rain.
Since the first scallop search in 2008, the group has seen the health of the bay improve, according to co-founder Rusty Chinnis. Over the last four years, Sarasota Bay Watch has placed 80 million larvae in the bay, in addition to 120,000 juvenile scallops.
Sarasota Bay Watch is now in its sixth year of its 10-year restoration initiative.
Stults said volunteers at the event share a common passion: protecting the bay.
“They really come together around our natural environment,” he said.