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Experts might have found the key to restoring our local ecosystems in Southwest Florida

Posted at 8:55 PM, Mar 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-24 20:56:42-04

Across the state of Florida, groups are reintroducing clams and oysters into our waterways. While once in abundant numbers, Dr. Melissa May at FGCU's Water School says these natural filters will hopefully improve water quality and restore other important ecosystems at the same time.

"They take anything that is in the water out of it. So, whether that is plankton. To some extent, they can take out nutrients. So they really help to clean the water sort of speak."

That filtering can be seen in a sped-up video from the University of Florida. Within 2 hours, the right side of the tank with clams is almost clear. A single clam can clean 5 gallons of seawater per day.

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Still image from UF/IFAS video of clams clearing up the water.

Dr. May is currently working on a grant project that will introduce clams and seagrass back into Charlotte Harbor. Dr. May says clams and oysters in past were seen in much larger qualities.

"You couldn't even navigate through the Caloosahatchee because the oyster beds were so thick." Dr. May says unfortunately humans played a role in their disappearance. "Because of human activity and over-harvesting of the clams, their populations have dropped off."

And with the red tide still fresh in our minds, Dr. May says it is still unknown how much impact the introduction of clams will have.

"Cleaning up the water, there is going to be less material, like nutrients in the water that could fuel those red tides." Clams remove those nutrients from the water and place them into the sediment. And with nutrient-rich soils and improve water clarity, clams could spark in growth to help return seagrasses.

"These animals are thought of as ecosystems engineers. So, they are changing the characteristics of the sediment, and changing the characteristics of the water. And by having them there, it is just going to draw back everything that used to be here. So, you have more seagrass, you are going to have more manatees."

Dr. May says clam should take relatively quickly once they are seeded in Charlotte Harbor, but it could still take several years before we know the full impacts.