Science for Everyone

Everybody Loves Baby Scallops: Combining Education and Research

Written by research assistant, Madison Maier

There is something about Hurricane Island that lingers in a visitor’s memory.  It’s an easy job to create a place that people are fascinated by; the island itself does all of the heavy lifting.  The staff borrows this power of place and incorporates it into curriculum. It is not an original idea but it is an incredibly effective one.  Placed-based educational theory is based on connecting students and curriculum to their local ecological, cultural, and historical contexts and emphasizes ‘real world’ learning experiences.  In short, our curriculum is hands-on and community-based (Sobel 2005).  

For the research team, our bridge to form these connections to our unique place on a Maine island is our spat, or young scallops.  Scallops are broadcast spawners, meaning that the eggs are fertilized in the water column.  Then, the new scallop spends its larval stage floating in the water column, their travel dictated by the currents in the spawning area (Hart and Chute 2004).  Successful scallops will settle down on hard substrates, like rocks. Some scallops, however, settle out into our spat bags, set out in the water column specifically to collect them.  

Spat bags are simple devices, a mesh bag filled with a hard substrate that is suitable for scallop settlement.  While in their larval stage, scallops can flow through the mesh bag, but once they settle on the inner substrate, they grow too large to escape.  Of course, scallops aren’t the only things settling in these bags.  

Our research team and program participants collaborate to sort through the spat bags, pulling out any small scallops that we find.  At this point in their life cycle, the scallops have the distinctive shape of the curved shell, with two ‘ears’ on one end, just miniaturized. I like to have an ongoing challenge of trying to find the smallest scallop in each spat bag.  We’ve found some that are only about a millimeter in height, which is the same as the thickness of a driver’s license! After we’ve sorted through the entire bag, we count each individual scallop that we found. This data helps us to know the best places to put our spat bags to collect scallops, and can be telling about the health of scallop populations in that area. 

At some point in this process, I like to pull out an older scallop that started as spat we collected and has been grown in our aquaculture gear.  The student’s work in sorting through spat bags is invaluable to our aquaculture farm and research because these are the next generation of scallops that we will study and grow.  Our spat is the link that encourages collaboration between our participants, the Hurricane Island community, the local economy, and the environment. And, small scallops are really cute.  

Hart D. R., and A. S. Chute. 2004. Sea Scallop, Placopecten magellanicus, Life History and Habitat Characteristics.

Sobel, D. 2005. Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities (2nd ed.). The Orion Society.

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