Port St. Joe is known for its scallops. Due to the Red Tide the scallop population has been depleted greatly. It is said to be the worst break out of red tide that has been seen in over a decade.
What is Red Tide
Red Tide is the blooming of the microorganism algae, called Karenia Brevis, in the waters of Bay and Gulf counties.
During red tide blooms, the toxins produced by K. brevis are also filtered by the scallops and accumulate in their gut. Scallop harvest zones are managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who will close certain scallop harvest areas in response to red tide blooms.
What Does Red Tide do?
The red tide organisms produces a toxin that affects the central nervous system of fish, birds, mammals and other animals. The red tide is extremely toxic and deadly to animals. When red tide develops it typically can wipe out thousands of helpless animals, sea life, and eco-systems.
Importance of Scallops with in an Ecosystem
Bay scallops are sensitive to changes in water quality and can be an indicator of an ecosystem's health. Scallops are filter feeders, and eat plankton. They lie on the bottom or on seagrass blades and filter water across their large gills, which remove food particles such as algae and oxygen for respiration from the water. Scallops need clean high salinity water to thrive; the water must be low in sediment content as the scallop is not efficient at removing sediment.
Unfortunately, coastal development in Florida has resulted in progressive declines in water quality and seagrass beds. Many high salinity estuaries and coastal lagoons such as Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor/Pine Island Sound have lost much of their seagrass and seen drastic declines in both water quality and scallop populations. In combination with over harvest of scallops in remaining healthy populations, the bay scallop is in serious danger of becoming a memory in Floridan coastal waters.
This is a sea sponge that was detached from the oceans bottom & unfortunately dying.
What Is Happening to Scallops as a Result of Red Tide
Due to the massive destruction of the Red Tide through 2017 and 2018, the TDC conducted many beach cleanups to remove the more massive concentrations of dead animals, which included everything from pinfish to octopus that washed up on the shore lines.
Today, the red tide is said to be under control, but the damaging affects still linger through out the under water eco-system. One of the heaviest hit sea creature population is scallops.
The scallop populations have diminished in St. Andrews and St. Joseph's Bay. Over the past few years scientists have noticed a decline in reproduction that has also contributed to the decline in the scollop population. To solve the issue of a scallop shortage, scientists have gotten creative.
What Are Scientist Doing About It?
The FWC and volunteers created over 100 scallop cages. Right now, FWC has 650 scallops gathered in 3 pairs of cages which it hopes will spawn more scallops this fall. In addition to current restoration efforts, FWC will gather more scallops in more cages prior to the scallop season starting August 22nd.
The cages are part of a 10 year scallop restoration program across the entire panhandle. It is funded through a Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Grant. The decrease in the scallop population could be due to a mix of over harvesting, red tides, climate changes. Another possible factor that has been debated, is the reduction of sharks from overfishing. A variety of sharks used to feed on rays, which are a main predator of bay scallops. With the shark population reduced, the rays have been free to feed on scallops to the point of greatly decreasing their numbers. Scientist want to help rebuild the scallop population and protect them from these occurrences.
The cage will act as a barrier from predators in efforts to help protect them from being eaten and increase reproduction. The main goal is to help them reproduce successfully to allow the scallop populations to get grow bigger with no threat of depletion.
I had the opportunity to spend a couple days off shore in Steinhatchee, about two hours from Port St. Joe.
I was able to learn about scallops, their moving patterns & the importance of advocating for marine reserves. With marine reserve sanctuaries we can encourage the recovery of seafloor habitats which, in turn, can benefit populations of commercially exploited species in the ecosystem-based management of fisheries.
While diving, we found all kinds of beautiful sea creatures, including this starfish and these juvenile shrimp that crawled out of the sea sponge. We captured their beauty and then released them back into their natural habitat. Also, it is fake news when people say touching a starfish will kill it. It does in fact NOT kill a star fish. However, you should always return any wildlife that finds its way onto your boat back to its home, the sea!
Through our journey we also encountered a few storms we had to run from. Don't worry. ev everything is fine mom. I survived!
After escaping the thunder & lightening we were able to enjoy the natural beauty of watching the sun set over Steinhatchee.
We returned to the Steinhatchee Marina to end our mini expedition. We brought back a lot of new information, amazing experiences, and beautiful images of the Earth's natural beauty.
Did you find this information interesting? Have you been scalloping? Do you have other information you want to share about scallops or the red tide? Leave us a comment below and continue the conversation!
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