NARRAGANSETT—As streams of kayakers and boaters flow between the islands that sit in Point Judith Pond, another less conspicuous activity is playing out on the pond’s bottom. Four-tiered cages, looking like lobster pots, rest there on lines in designated areas. One group sits to the west of Ram Island while others are placed elsewhere in the pond. Here is Save The Bay’s Scallop Restoration Program, an effort by the environmental organization to bring native scallops species back to South County waters.
Save the Bay Restoration Ecologist Robbie Hudson and South County Coastkeeper David Prescott presented an update of their work to Narragansett’s Harbor Management Commission on Tuesday evening, detailing the progress which the Scallop Restoration Program has made.
“It has been another great year for our dive surveys in the Point Judith Pond System,” said Hudson. “The scallops seem to be settling into the system and scallop population has been currently stable from 2009 to 2011.”
As an off-shoot of Save the Bay’s eelgrass restoration initiatives across the state, a common habitat for scallops, the Scallop Restoration Program began in 2007. Save The Bay has employed research and techniques conducted through the North Cape Shellfish Restoration Program, a project of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 2010, Save the Bay purchased a stock of 20,000 Atlantic bay scallops from Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension in Long Island, New York and placed them into Point Judith Pond with the hopes that they would thrive.
Sites were chosen in Point Judith Pond according to water depth, diver safety, water quality, and the amount of predators in the vicinity. Cages hold the stock of scallops to protect them from predators, and juvenile scallops, called spat, are collected in mesh bags and catalogued. In 2010, Save The Bay found 1,927 spat, and 899 in 2011.
“No other restoration project, even those at NOAA, has seen a number that high when it comes to spat found,” said Hudson. “We are looking for the tiny spat smaller than your pinky nail and are finding it on the dive surveys, which was unheard of a few years ago.”
The current restoration campaign focuses on sustaining the scallop populations in Point Judith Pond, and making sure that numbers do not dwindle due to predation or bacterial increases, such as through a brown tide.
“To protect the brood stock of scallops from predators, we not trying to increase the population, but to get more scallops to stay within the Point Judith Pond system,” said Hudson. “I want to look for just the adults because they are the spawning stock of the system.”
“We are doing what we can, putting in that lump sum of scallops into the system to produce spat, but the natural scallops are what we want to look at,” he added.
The benefit of a healthy scallop population in Rhode Island waters is multifold. Scallops, as filter feeders, take out extra nutrients and bacteria from the surrounding aquatic ecosystem, improving water quality in a pond. An adult scallop can filter more than 3.5 gallons of water per hour. Researchers also hope that, if a sustainable scallop population is created, recreational scallop harvesting can legally be pursued.
“These things are delicious,” said Hudson. “I have no problem with people [harvesting scallop] so long as the animals are contributing to the system, putting back into the system.”
The upcoming season for scallop restoration begins in June when the first stocks are launched and ends in October when the cages are pulled out of Point Judith Pond. This year is the last for Save The Bay’s Scallop Restoration Program, and both Prescott and Hudson are concerned that funding the project further may prove difficult.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve changed things around and are learning a lot,” said Prescott. “For us, it is year-to-year for funding and everything is really tight. We hope and have our fingers crossed to come up with funding, and the success of this program shows that we are making a difference in Point Judith Pond.”
“The overall project, including the animals themselves, is expensive,” said Hudson. “Last year, it cost us over $5,000 for the 10,000 scallops we put in Point Judith Pond. The overall project is pushing $50,000 to run. We are going in again with a minimum of 10,000 this year, and with our three year permit, after this year, we are going back to the drawing board.”
Hudson praised the efforts of volunteers who have helped to sustain the project, from interested locals to high school students from Central Falls who have come to Point Judith Pond and had fun learning about the Scallop Restoration Program.
“We’ve been increasing the numbers of volunteers coming out to the site, and our outreach education has been good for them to get their hands on the restoration project,” said Hudson.
Although challenges in funding and the communication of shellfish regulations are continually present, both Hudson and Prescott hope that the Scallop Restoration Program will contribute not only to the benefit of the Point Judith Pond ecosystem, but also to the knowledge base of the local citizenry.
“The whole purpose is to get as much education to people and to get the community energized around [scallop restoration],” said Prescott. “It is an exciting project for the community.”
Save The Bay will hold a public information presentation about the Scallop Restoration Program at the Maury Lootjens Memorial Library in Narragansett on March 15 at 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information about the Scallop Restoration Program, visit www.savebay.org .