GREAT BAY SCALLOP SEARCH
The Great Bay Scallop Search is an annual resource monitoring event in which Tampa Bay Watch recruits volunteers to snorkel along set transect lines to search for scallops in select areas within Boca Ciega and Lower Tampa Bay. The goal of the event is to monitor and document the status of the bay scallop population. We mainly recruit volunteers with shallow draft boats, but we have limited spots for canoes and kayaks. The event can accommodate 45 volunteer boaters with more than 200 participants.
Factors that may affect the scallop population include red tide, high rainfall, and storms. Bay scallops disappeared from Tampa Bay in the early 1960s when the bay water was hghly polluted from dredging operations and industrial and municipal wastes. Tampa Bay’s water quality and seagrass beds have since improved to levels that will once again support the bay scallop population.
Why are Bay Scallops Important?
An interesting feature of the scallop is its ability to filter water. The bay scallop is a member of the shellfish family known as bivalves (for its two halves, or shells), and grows to about two inches in size. The scallop feeds continuously through its open valves by filtering small particles of algae and organic matter in the water. Scallops also breathe with their valves open and then close them when predators approach or if the water is too silty. Silt, or particles of sediment, can clog and ultimately harm the delicate gills of the scallop. Many tiny blue eyes along the outer rim of the shell detect movement near the animal and function as a warning system. Scallops can swim backwards by clapping their valves and expelling water rapidly.
*Searches were not held in 2001-2003 to allow water quality to improve.
Bay Scallop Facts
- Scientific name: Argopecten irradians
- Size: About two inches
- Distribution: Throughout Florida's west coast and as far north as West Palm Beach on the east coast
- Habitat: Sea grass beds and shallow waters of estuaries
- Although clams may live 40 years, the life span of a bay scallop is a fleeting 12-18 months
- An adult bay scallop can pump as much as 14.7 liters of water per hour by funneling water across open pathways on its gill covers
- Because scallops are extremely sensitive to pollution, they serve as useful "underwater canaries" to signal changes in water quality
- Scallops are a favored food of stone crabs, who have no trouble crushing the scallop's armored shell with their powerful claws
- Bay scallops develop male and female sex organs, producing both sperm and eggs
- Of the 12 million or so eggs a single scallop releases, only one may survive to adulthood
- Tiny blue eyes along the outer rim of the shell detect movement and serve as an early warning system for scallops
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