Clams Mobilized to Fight Brown Tide in Great South Bay
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On the south shore of New York's Long Island, more than a million clams have been mobilized in Great South Bay. Their mission? To eat the brown tide making life impossible for shellfish. Unlike the red tide currently afflicting New England, brown tide is not considered harmful to humans. Gene Bryan Johnson reports.
GENE BRYAN JOHNSON reporting:
Not too long ago, more than 50 percent of all hard clams harvested for commercial use in the United States came from Great South Bay. Carl LoBue is marine reserve specialist at the Long Island's Nature Conservancy.
Mr. CARL LoBUE (Long Island Nature Conservancy): Great South Bay is about 60,000 acres and it was supplying over 700,000 bushels during its peak in the 1970s.
JOHNSON: Business was so good Great South Bay was known as the clam factory. In 1985, however, brown tide, caused by an overabundance of phytoplankton, a single-celled marine plant, devastated the industry. But why should phytoplankton, which is always present, suddenly dominate the habitat? Scientists at the State University of New York-Stony Brook filled some buckets with bay water and clams and watched nature take its course.
Mr. LoBUE: And what they found was that when the abundance of clams was high, the brown tide wouldn't bloom, and when the abundance of clams--when there was either no clams or very few clams, the brown tide did bloom, because the clams can keep that from happening through their filtering activity.
JOHNSON: While the clam factory may have been great for the local economy, too many clams had been removed from the bay, making it impossible for the population to sustain itself. In hindsight, the solution seems obvious: Why not put some of the clams back?
(Soundbite of boat engine)
Mr. LoBUE: It's pretty rough out today. We've had unsettled weather for the last couple of days.
You feeling all right?
JOHNSON: In the last year alone, over a million hard clams have been dropped into the water where they settle to the bottom and dig into the mud.
(Soundbite of clams being shoveled)
JOHNSON: The goal of this clam restoration project is to have enough clams thriving on phytoplankton to restore balance to the ecosystem. But biologists admit there is no way to know for sure if the experiment will work but insist the potential benefits, both environmental and economic, make the effort worthwhile.
For NPR News, this is Gene Bryan Johnson in Suffolk County, New York.
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.