The Great Scallop Search conducted Aug. 4 did not come up with great results for the endangered species.
Only 20 live scallops were found during the search, down from 24 in 2011.
"Although these numbers are low, they still represent a positive sign for our area," said Betty Staugler, Florida Sea Grant agent in her five-page 2012 Bay Scallop Summary for the Charlotte Harbor estuaries, Lemon Bay and Gasparilla Sound.
Conducted by 137 volunteers, the search was designed to assess bay scallop distribution and abundance. It was the first of four volunteer-based scallop searches, which also occurred in Sarasota Bay, Tampa Bay and Pine Island Sound.
Thirty teams, including 24 boats and six groups of kayakers, covered areas from just north of the Tom Adams Bridge down to Boca Grande Pass and east to Turtle Bay.
Bay scallops are an important species to humans and the environment, Staugler reported.
"When coastal waters are able to support bay scallops it is a sign of reasonably good water quality and seagrass conditions," she said.
Volunteers reportedly told Staugler seagrass looked healthy.
"Healthy seagrass is very important habitat for bay scallops, but it's only part of the story," she said.
Bay scallops are essentially an annual crop completing their life cycle in a year. Spawning typically occurs in the autumn. Scallops mature in spring and summer and die after spawning.
Scallops depend upon the success of the spawn and on larvae being transported by water currents to suitable seagrass habitat.
Twelve volunteers in Charlotte County are monitoring scallops in cages at their docks. The caged scallops are part of a community restoration program where bay scallops are placed in areas to spawn.
Bay scallops are extremely sensitive organisms and so short lived that their success depends upon large populations in large areas over a long enough time period to ensure one red tide event or one rainy year will not collapse the species.
It is anticipated larvae will be released in Lemon Bay and Gasparilla Sound.
"More releases will most definitely be needed if we are to stand a chance at restoring local bay scallop populations," Staugler said.
Gasparilla Marina donated use of its facility and dock space for the search. Charlotte County waived parking fees for Placida Boat Ramp. Grande Tours provided kayaks free of charge to snorkelers. Coastal Engineering Consultants, provided boxed lunches for everyone who participated.
"Hopefully someday we will see a sustainable bay scallop population in southwest Florida," Staugler reported. "Until then, it is nice to know there are some happy ones out there."