They're called 'super clams,' and the Indian River Lagoon just got 55,000 of them

The long-embattled southern Indian River Lagoon got some support this month from what could be a promising solution to pollution problems. They're called "super clams."

About 20 volunteers from a coalition of Florida environment nonprofits planted 55,000 of the marine animals into Martin County's stretch of the lagoon on Sept. 10, according to the Florida Oceanographic Society.

Like oysters, hard clams are filters for dirty water. They siphon harmful algae, nutrient pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus and other pollutants. The clams can filter up to 4.5 gallons per day each.

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Recently, however, commercial harvesting, freshwater Lake Okeechobee discharges and poor water quality have drastically declined clam populations in the southern lagoon, sending scientists on a quest to find a fix.

Enter stress-resistant super clams.

Researchers at the University of Florida's Whitney Laboratory of Marine Bioscience led by professor Todd Osborne scoured the lagoon and found fewer than 50 individual clams that had survived the onslaught of nutrient-rich polluted waters and bred them with each other.

The result is a "broodstock" that is more resilient to its harsh ecosystem, ensuring a better chance of survival — and, possibly, cleaner water.

About 20 volunteers with a coalition of Florida environment nonprofits planted 55,000 "super clams" into Martin County's stretch of the southern Indian River Lagoon on Sept. 10, according to the Stuart-based Florida Oceanographic Society.

The stress-resistant clams have been bred by University of Florida scientists to withstand heightened levels of water pollution in the hopes they can improve the lagoon's water quality.
About 20 volunteers with a coalition of Florida environment nonprofits planted 55,000 "super clams" into Martin County's stretch of the southern Indian River Lagoon on Sept. 10, according to the Stuart-based Florida Oceanographic Society. The stress-resistant clams have been bred by University of Florida scientists to withstand heightened levels of water pollution in the hopes they can improve the lagoon's water quality.

"These clams were bred from basically the last clams that were found in the lagoon," said Loraé Simpson, Florida Oceanographic Society's research director. "The idea is, if those initial clams survived everything we've thrown at them, hopefully the offspring can as well."

Super clams throughout the estuary

Those offspring have already been reintroduced into the northern swaths of the lagoon in Melbourne and Sebastian with promising results, according to the nonprofit.

This month's recent deployment of thousands of super clams behind the nonprofit's Stuart facility was the first effort of its kind in the southern stretch of the 156-mile-long lagoon, according to spokesperson Anthony Brunet.

Other organizations also helped with the clams, including the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, the Indian River Clam Restoration Project and the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, among others, Brunet said. Fisherman and outdoors television personality Capt. Blair Wiggins of Melbourne helped distribute the Martin County clams. Wiggins founded the Clam Restoration Project in 2017 and enlisted the help of CCA Florida and the IRL National Estuary Program to deploy more than 12 million clams in the beleaguered lagoon. In December, this same team deployed 80,000 clams in the lagoon near Melbourne Beach.

"This is a huge collaborative effort," Simpson said, with Brunet adding: "We are beyond excited to be the southernmost partner on this important project and are grateful to all the volunteers that came out to lend a helping hand."

Florida Oceanographic Society's Lorae Simpson (right), director of research and conservation, places oyster shells during the organization's first large-scale oyster deployment open to the public since the start of COVID-19 on Friday, April 15, 2022, at Pierpoint Condominiums in Stuart. "We have been planning this project for three years now so itÕs amazing to finally see the end result," said Simpson. Florida Oceanographic Society monitors the development and health of natural and constructed oyster reefs in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary.
Florida Oceanographic Society's Lorae Simpson (right), director of research and conservation, places oyster shells during the organization's first large-scale oyster deployment open to the public since the start of COVID-19 on Friday, April 15, 2022, at Pierpoint Condominiums in Stuart. "We have been planning this project for three years now so itÕs amazing to finally see the end result," said Simpson. Florida Oceanographic Society monitors the development and health of natural and constructed oyster reefs in the Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary.

Max Chesnes is a TCPalm environment reporter focusing on issues facing the Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee. You can keep up with Max on Twitter @MaxChesnes, email him at max.chesnes@tcpalm.com and give him a call at 772-978-2224.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Super clams bred to filter water pollution from Indian River Lagoon