If you are snorkeling off of Fort Myers Beach and see tiny bright blue eyes staring back at you, they may belong to a bay scallop.
Bay scallops (Argopecten irradians) live in shallow waters near the shore of Florida’s Gulf coast, from the Panhandle area to the Florida Keys.
They are bivalves, meaning they have two valves – or shells – connected by a hinge. The upper shell is dark and mottled, while the lower shell is usually white.
Strikingly, they can have up to 40 tiny blue eyes along the edge of their shell, which can grow up to three-and-a-half inches high.
Bay scallops eat by filtering small particles from the water.
Once abundant, the population has decreased due to poor water quality, declines in seagrass acreage, increases in fresh water, loosening of sediments, over‐harvesting and other causes.
Volunteers Help with Annual Scallop Search
If you are vacationing on Fort Myers Beach during August, grab your snorkel mask and sign up for the annual Pine Island Sound Scallop Search.
Now in its eighth year, this event is hosted by Florida Sea Grant and the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation in partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Up to 40 people with shallow draft boats lend their time to take snorkelers out to selected sites in Pine Island Sound and San Carlos Bay. Canoes and kayaks are also welcome. Up to 150 people volunteer for this family-friendly program, which monitors and documents the health and status of the bay scallop population.
Scallop searchers meet for an orientation at Pineland Marina and are given survey equipment and instructions.
Volunteers need to bring a mask, snorkel and gloves and be able to snorkel/swim 50 meters (about 150 feet) along the bottom.
Pairs of snorkelers deploy two weighted buoys with rope along a transect and then push a meter-long white stick among the sea grass along this line to look for scallops. The scallops are sensitive to disturbances and swim away quickly when alarmed.
If a scallop is found, it is measured and returned to the water. This is a non-harvest event.
Volunteers search at four transect sites within a grid assigned to them.
When the research is completed, boats and snorkelers return to the marina to report their results and enjoy a complimentary boxed lunch.
Learn more about the next Pine Island Sound Scallop Search, which will be held in September 2017.
Top image courtesy of Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve.