Gulf Shellfish Institutes and All Clams on Deck Make Cleaner Water the Mission

Here on the Suncoast, we have the privilege to access amazing bodies of water. Whether you are a fisherman, swimmer, or love walking the shoreline for your evening exercise, this amazing natural wonder is a big draw to our state. Fishing, tourism, and recreation on Florida’s Gulf Coast support 304,000 jobs and a $17.5 billion economy. Unfortunately, we face decreasing water quality due to various pollution and other issues. If the condition of our waterways is not improved, animals like manatees will struggle for survival, along with other critical species of fish, vegetation, and other water ecosystem staples.

Several organizations in our communities are fighting the decline of clean water in various ways. Combating red tide, decreasing animal populations, and even declining water ecosystems will continue to spiral into other concerns if not turned around. One of these amazing organizations Gulf Shellfish Institute and their All Clams On Deck program, have recently made some amazing new announcements to combat the water crisis here in Florida. Gulf Shellfish Institute released the following excerpts from a press release this past week:

Gulf Shellfish Institute

“The State of Florida has provided global leadership for protecting our environment and strengthening our economy. On June 5, the 2022-2023 budget was signed into law, securing funding that will lead the way in restoring estuaries and growing coastal economies. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, State Senator Jim Boyd, and State Representative Will Robinson, $2.5 million has been appropriated to support sustainability and resilience.

The funding will kickstart a five-year research and restoration initiative in the only place in the nation that shares a border with three estuaries of national significance, Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor, and Sarasota Bay. This project will provide for large-scale plantings of clams and seagrass, which will support local businesses and create a natural “macro-laboratory” that will allow researchers to evaluate natural biological mitigation strategies to combat nutrient loading and improve water quality. These estuaries are cradles of the Gulf, providing critical nursery habitat to commercially and recreationally important species and supporting billions of dollars in fisheries and tourism every year. Restoring and maintaining healthy water in these systems is key to community wellbeing and economic success.

This proof-of-concept project combines science, environment, and economy to enhance estuary resiliency through the large-scale restoration of seagrass and clam populations. Efforts will be guided by research scientists, implemented by industry specialists, and advised and monitored by an external advisory panel of experts throughout the process. This small investment in our future will yield high returns, promoting our coastal ecosystems’ resilience, providing jobs, and protecting the heritage of working waterfronts. It will also create room for bivalve shellfish aquaculture – one of the greenest agricultural products– to expand.

Clams equal clean water. Cleaner water allows more light to filter through the water column, promoting photosynthesis and encouraging seagrass growth. Clams, like seagrass, can stabilize sediments and provide habitat for other organisms. Together, clams and seagrass form a vital part of the marine environment critical to thousands of other marine organisms, including the Florida manatee (whose diet depends on seagrass.)

Dr. Angela Collins, Florida Sea Grant Agent, UF/IFAS Extension, and Marine Extension Advisor to the Gulf Shellfish Institute, says this: “This project will allow for a large-scale research initiative that utilizes industry expertise, supports local economies, and can provide scientists the opportunity to address existing data gaps in situ. It is exciting to see this synergy between industry, researchers, and resource managers, and we are hopeful this work provides the groundwork necessary to better quantify site-specific environmental benefits and guide future efforts.”

All Clams on Deck

Led by the Gulf Shellfish Institute and its recent program All Clams On Deck, with the support of several members of the Blue Community Consortium, and guidance from multiple businesses, management agencies, universities, and NGOs, this project will prioritize research that can quantify environmental benefits and solidify best practices that maximize the contributions of restored clams and seagrass to our coastal ecosystems. This proof-of-concept will provide the data necessary for efforts like these to expand throughout Florida and beyond.”

This new endeavor will support ecosystem sustainability and resilience. Restoring clam populations and seagrass meadows will result in improved water quality, reduced algal blooms, and healthier habitats for commercial and recreational fisheries in Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, and Charlotte Harbor estuaries, which in turn will support a healthy economy. As the baselines of this project progress, follow the All Clams on Deck website, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts to stay abreast of all the amazing developments in the coming weeks, days, and months.

Photos courtesy of Deposit Photos

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