With many fishermen and shellfish farmers losing their jobs because of Florida red tide, Barry Hurt of Little Gasparilla Island in Charlotte County decided to do something about it.
Hurt, 69, a former entrepreneur who became a clam farmer 13 years ago, proposed restoring native algae-consuming shellfish to filter the water along the state’s southwest coast.
Red tide – the toxic algae scientifically known as Karenia brevis – continues to destroy marine life, restaurants and the livelihood of some South Florida communities.
Hurt’s idea is known as A Billion Clams for a Healthier Charlotte Harbor, or ABC plan for short. It has the support of a number of scientists and other local growers along the harbor, which is considered among the best spots to sail in Florida.
According to a website created to promote it, clamrestoration.com, the ABC plan aims to use local clam farmers to restore depleted native clam resources. It also would create permanent clam beds protected from commercial and recreational harvest. The beds would mature and become self-recruiting, leading to an increase in native populations over time, the site states.
Hurt and a team of science advisers would like to begin enacting the plan within the next six months. However, they still must secure what Hurt said would be the funding – between $1.5 million to $2 million per year for 10 years – needed just to replace depleted clam populations.
“It´s not going to be cheap,” said Hurt, who is vice chairman of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Aquaculture Review Council. “If we can reduce the red tides and increase the regulations for the protection of the environment, it would be worth it.”
Leslie Sturmer, a shellfish aquaculture specialist with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension, is among the advisers. She said clams take a year to go from a seed to market size. Once mature, a single clam can filter up to five gallons of seawater and thus reduce harmful algae, Sturmer said.
“The intent of this project is to mitigate the effects of red tide blooms through the filter-seeding capacity of bivalves, in particular the native clam,” she said.
Another adviser is Elizabeth “Betty” Staugler, the Charlotte County extension agent for UF’s Florida Sea Grant program. Staugler wrote in a West Villages Sun op-ed that Hurt’s plan will provide many ecological functions: water filtration, nutrient transfer, nitrogen removal, carbon and phosphorus storage and turbidity reduction.
A Billion Clams could become statewide if successful, she said.
“This plan should have been made a long time ago, but after experiencing a large concentration of algae bloom this past year, the time seems just right to pursue it now,” Staugler said.