© 2016 Lindsay Cope

Giant Clam Restocking

I recently had the good fortune to participate in a unique project with DENR to restock Giant Clams, locally called Taklobo, in the marine protected area of Barangay Santa Ana.

Similar to coral reefs, giant clams support xoozanthellae algae, which produce sugars for the Giant Clam host. Giant Clams prefer shallow reef areas and can live as long as 100 years and grow as long as four feet.  I was fortunate to swim with a few large clams a month ago in Anilao, the enormity of these species is truly awesome.

The giant clams we were planting were juveniles, about a foot long each.  Before placing them on the reef, we first acclimatized the clams which had travelled a long way from Pangasinan to Batangas.  After an hour submerged in sea water, we gathered our dive gear and climbed onto the boat.

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Once we located a suitable spot for the clams, we descended and awaited for the clams to be lowered in crates. We had 20 pieces and it took about an hour total to distribute the giant clams.

Let me tell you something about planting giant clams.  It is not as easy as it looks.  Our team moved very quickly underwater to place the clams in their new homes. After demonstrating with a few clams, Jessie checked to see if I was okay to try it out.  I gave him the “okay” signal and he handed me a clam, one of the smaller specimens of the day.  As soon as he placed it in my hands, I could not move.  In fact, I sort of face planted into the coral rubble below me.  It hadn’t occurred to me how much the clam would change my buoyancy.  I clumsily swam with it before placing it securely adjacent to the reef. After that, I put myself on crate and clean up duty.

There were a few flaws in the way the project was implemented, and I tried my best to mitigate them for the duration of the planting.  First, the clams had been transported in packaging.  Each was wrapped in a sac to retain moisture and then packaged in not one, but two plastic bags.  We kept the clams in the bags to acclimatize them, pouring water over them.  However, the participants in the bangka were dropping the clams in the crates still encased in plastic.  Once the clam was removed from the plastic, the diver placing the clam moved quickly to mitigate distress, and left the bag to float freely in the water column. I swam quickly to collect the bags, trying to return them to the surface as the crates were pulled back up.  As I held onto the plastic bags, I struggled with buoyancy because they had trapped so much air.


It would make sense to me to remove the clam from the plastic and send just the clam down to the divers, but sometimes that doesn’t really make sense.  We tried to collect all the bags, but I’m sad to report that its likely we lost one or two in our efforts. On our next planting activity with DENR, apparently we have 50 more pieces to deliver to the MPA, we will instruct the boatmen to keep the plastic on the boat.

The other dilemma I had with the project is the disregard of the DENR divers for the ecosystem they were operating in.  They didn’t show regard for the reef, causing damage with their fins.  Also, the descending crates crashed into the reef. Jessie and I would watch for the crates and guide them to the sand or rubble areas of the substrate but the other divers did not follow our cue. There is a lot of room for improvement in implementation, and one take away is that it never hurts to remind people of basic diving etiquette and to provide thorough dive/implementation plan for these kinds of projects. 12963464_10205937690348786_8881405649489654576_n12987171_10205937692388837_8510962038205652396_n

It was a successful day despite the flaws in implementation.  We look forward to continuing the Giant Clam seeding with DENR and hope that we can improve the operations and ensure that conservation efforts are not thwarted by simple fixable operational discrepancies.


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