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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Super Clams = Cleaner Water

Super Clams = Cleaner Water

Super clams (credit: Florida Fish & Wildlife Foundation)

When folks typically refer to clams they think of the seafood being served is a bowl of chowder or on a dish of linguini pasta. They don't think of the bivalves as agents for water pollution control. One clam is showing how important these marine species can really be.

At the University of Florida, researchers provided a demonstration that illustrated the potential for hard clams to be used as efficient water-filter feeders. In a time-lapse video, the researchers showed the clam’s water-cleaning ability by placing 24 littleneck clams in a small aquarium (2.5 gallons) that contained algae (phytoplankton) at a high concentration of nearly 400,000 cells per milliliter. In the 100 minute demo one aquarium contained the clams (right) while another only contained polluted water (left). The change in water clarity is obvious. The lab estimates that a single clam can filter 4.5 gallons of seawater per day if the natural technology can be scaled-up.

Scaling lab environment can be difficult to obtain similar results in a natural environment. In the situation in Florida, phytoplankton can produce 'dead zones' and toxic algal blooms that kill fish and other species. However, evolution by natural selection seems to have provided a potential pathway to success in a large lagoon. A small population of 'super clams' was identified which can tolerate high levels of algal pollution in the Indian River lagoon, a Florida bay. These tolerant clams were multiplied and planted in this lagoon where they were extinct. This restoration project would provide a 'real world' ecosystem-level test. The early results are impressive and offer an ecological, practical, and economic solution to a serious water pollution problem. Algal blooms and the water pollution they product affects not only Florida waterways but elsewhere in the USA and more widely on a global scale.

In certain situations, rewilding waterways with clams is showing the potential to cleaner water by using their filter-feeding capabilities. These clam restoration projects could produce and added benefit of more tasty mollusks being available for a hearty chowder as well.WHB


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