We used to find them here. I have heard stories of folks who could fill a 5-gallon bucket with them in about 30 minutes right by Morgan Park. An old shrimper told me that back in the day when shrimping in Santa Rosa Sound they often found scallops along the points. They would drop a grab and collect them for sale. This was when both commercial scallop harvest, and shrimping, were allowed in Santa Rosa Sound. Neither are today. There are numerous tales of large beds of scallops in Big Lagoon and scientific reports of their presence in both locations and in Little Sabine. I myself have found them at Naval Live Oaks, Shoreline Park, Big Sabine, and in Big Lagoon.
But that was a long time ago. The reports suggest the decline began in the 1960s and today it is rare to find one. What happen is hard to say but most believe it began with a decline in water quality. A decrease in salinity and an increase in nutrients from stormwater runoff degraded the environment for both the scallops and the turtle seagrass they depend on. Overharvesting certainly played a role.
But they are not all gone. There is still turtle grass in our system and occasionally reports of scallops. They are trying to hang on. There have also been attempts to improve water quality by modifying how stormwater is discharged into our bay, though there is much more to do there. Each year Florida Sea Grant Agents at our local county extension offices provide volunteers an opportunity to survey our bay for both species. We have a program called “Eyes on Seagrass” where volunteers monitor sites with seagrass once a month from April through October. We partner with Dr. Jane Caffrey from the University of West Florida to assess this. We also hold our annual “Pensacola Bay Scallop Search” each July.
In the Scallop Search volunteers will snorkel four different 50-meter transects lines either in Santa Rosa Sound or Big Lagoon searching for scallops. These surveys are conducted at the end of July. There are 11 survey grids in Big Lagoon and 55 in Santa Rosa Sound extending from Gulf Breeze to Navarre. To volunteer you will need a team of at least three people and your own snorkel gear. Some locations do require a boat to access. If you are interested in searching along the north shore of Santa Rosa Sound contact Chris Verlinde at firstname.lastname@example.org (850-623-3868). If you are interested in searching along the south shore of Santa Rosa Sound, or Big Lagoon, contact Rick O’Connor at email@example.com (850-475-5230).
Reminder, harvesting scallops in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties is still illegal. Please give them a chance to recover.