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Native clams could help give muscle to patchy seagrass beds

Bald patches in seagrass around Port Manatee will likely fill in and grow with the help of an Eckerd College marine science professor and over a half-million clams.

With $59,150 from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program Restoration Fund, Bruce Barber began his two-year research in September on how planting native southern quahog clams, Mercenaria campechiensis, in seagrass beds could improve the sediment quality.

Barber is also the executive director of Gulf Shellfish Institute, which was created to promote shellfish aquaculture and research like his own.

Bi-valves such as clams and oysters are known for their ability to clean water, as many oyster beds have been placed in waterways to do just that. When the water is clean and clear, sunlight is able to pass through the water column and reach the seagrass for it to grow.

So why isn’t Barber using oysters?

“Clams bury themselves in the sediment. Oysters don’t,” he said.

Barber hypothesizes that the clams will take nutrients from the water column and distribute them in the sediment through their fecal matter, helping seagrass to grow in a way other than clearer water.

While Barber and his students collect data on water quality and clam growth and death, Gregg Brooks and his students will collect data on sediment.