SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The mudflats of Fernald Cove make an unlikely nursery, unless you’re a one-inch seed clam. In that case, conditions are perfect.
Seventh and eighth graders from Bonnie Norwood’s science class at Pemetic Elementary School participated in a unique service project last week, seeding clams by burying them in the soft mud to grow and boost the clam population in the cove.
Clams were transplanted by the students from the head of the harbor, an area closed due to shellfish harvesting because of pollution, to the cleaner mud of Fernald Cove.
Members of the Southwest Harbor Shellfish Committee, including committee chair Jim Colquhoun and shellfish warden Adam Thurston, were on hand to oversee the project.
Colquhoun instructed the students in burying each little clam siphon-side up, so it can feed. Students then each took a cupful of baby clams, under 1-1/2 inches in length, and spread out over the soft mud clam flats to bury them.
The idea of transplanting clams is simple: remove baby clams from a closed area to a cleaner area where they will eventually be able to be harvested.
Clams are filter feeders, pulling water through a siphon, filtering the food particles out, and siphoning the water back out again. Constantly flushing themselves this way, they can filter themselves clean after leaving a polluted environment.
Colquhoun explained that regulations require a clam flat to be closed for six months after transplanting clams from a polluted area. This project was done in late April to coincide with a seasonal (May 1 through Oct. 31) closure at Fernald Point due to high bacteria counts in the summers.
At typical Maine water temperatures, Colquhoun said, seed clams will take three to five years to reach the legal harvesting size of two inches.
Norwood has been involving her science students in projects like this with the Southwest Harbor Shellfish Committee for more than 15 years. Her class did a clam flat population survey in 2003, she said, and they have done seeding projects three times over the years.
“It gets them working with people in the town,” Norwood said. “They’re doing something for the town, and at the same time, they’re learning.”
For their part, students were happy to swap the science classroom for the clam flats once in a while.
“It’s a lot messier,” said eighth grader Westy Granholm, when asked how seeding clams compares to a regular day at school.
“It’s fun,” continued Granholm. “It’s pretty cool to do something for the community.”
Once the last clam was planted siphon-side up in the mud, students and teachers walked the mile-and-a-half back to Pemetic Elementary School. They were too muddy, Norwood explained, to get back on the school bus.