ReClam the Bay Nurtures Baby Shellfish in Order to Repopulate the Bay

By Lauren Wanko

At the Mantoloking Yacht Club there’s a nursery filled with more than 100,000 babies — clams, oysters and bay scallops.

“The upweller is a land based nursery which we pump in the Bay water 24/7. In our upweller we have 10 silos which have mesh bottoms, we put the baby animals in there. The water rises up and then goes out the slosh back into the bay, so there’s a continuous supply of water,” said Frank Vives.

The babies are being cared for by ReClam the Bay, established by the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Program. The non-profit’s volunteers build and maintain the upwellers and nurture the baby shellfish to repopulate the Bay.

“Shellfish population has declined drastically in the last 30 to 40 years. Hundred years ago the bay was loaded, billions of clams and oysters. We want to educate people on what they can do to help keep the Bay clean,” said Vives.

The non-profit has nearly 10 upwellers across the Bay. Friday is cleaning day. After turning off the pump and checking both the temperature and salinity, a team of dedicated volunteers takes out the 10 silos in this nursery, sprays the muck off, then the babies are placed in trays. A volume measurement is taken to determine how much they’re growing, while other certified shellfish gardeners scrub the tank.

“It’s pretty scummy and pretty yucky,” Vives said.

The babies are put back in the clean tank until the following week. The clams moved into the nursery in early July. Upweller captain Vives says the babies are growing about 30 percent a week, they eat the phytoplanktonin in the Bay water.

“We purchase the seed animals from nurseries. They already have their shells formed when we buy them,” said Vives.

Volunteers have helped put millions of clams and oysters in the bay since 2005. The non-profit’s also focused on education. On this day these 8-year-olds learn about baby clams. The coolest part for Sydney Mihalko.

“Seeing their foot,” said Mihalko.

“They dig down into the sand or mud with their foot and that foot is a muscular structure. Clams only move up and down, they can’t walk on their foot, they can’t hop,” said ReClam The Bay Certified Shellfish Gardener Dr. Jim Merritt.

The Baby clams are expected to grow to 12 to 15 millimeters by the middle of October, that’s when they’ll be taken out of the upweller. The organization leases two one-acre sites in the Barnegat Bay. That’s where the baby clams will be planted under a predator screen, they’ll continue to grow their for another year, then they’ll be raked out and distributed randomly throughout the Bay.