Major Shellfish Transplant to Top Last Years Success

A benefit to the health and marine life of South County coastal ponds.

Westerly, RI | May 05, 2009

A major transplant of nearly 20,000 pounds of shellfish (approx. 90,000+ individual clams) into a sanctuary in Quonochontaug Pond by a conservation partnership and its volunteers took place today, doubling the total number of clams in the sanctuary.The transplant restoration project is done as part of the national partnership between the NOAA Community-based Restoration Program and The Nature Conservancy, and also includes the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, Save the Bay, the Salt Ponds Coalition, and Dr. Marta Gomez-Chiarri from the University of Rhode Island.

The harvest from East Greenwich was directed by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management and the R.I. Shellfishermen’s Association who worked with volunteers to harvest clams in the morning from Rhode Island Clam Company in East Greenwich, RI. The clams were then transported by truck to the Quonochontaug Pond site at the R.I. State Boat Ramp.Volunteers then joined members of the various organizations to re-plant the shellfish in the Pond’s 52- “spawner sanctuary” using boats provided by the Salt Ponds Coalition.The sanctuary prohibits clam harvest, but serves as a breeding ground for the shellfish, eventually increasing the number of clams in the entire pond.As they feed, the transplanted clams will clean roughly 1 million gallons of water per day, an amount five times the size of the New England Aquarium’s Giant Ocean Tank.

Cleaner water reduces the potential for harmful algae blooms, making the pond a healthier place for people and wildlife.

“TNC is thrilled to be building on last-years successful transplant of over 20,000 clams each into Ninigret and Quonnie. We learned so much last year through our tremendous partnership with the Salt Ponds Coalition, Save the Bay, and DEM.Now we want to get closer to our goal of having fully sustainable clam populations in these ponds, for the good of the ponds and for the enjoyment of Rhode Islanders.” explained Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Chapter of TNC. “Today’s shellfish transfer, coupled with another in Ninigret Pond later this month, will not only help ensure the good health of Rhode Island’s marine environment but will also help provide for the long-term viability of Rhode Island shellfish industry.”

Now in its second year, NOAA and TNC are providing $143,414 in financing for the restoration project, with additional technical support contributed by NOAA and the University of Rhode Island. A similar shellfish transplant will take place in Ninigret Pond on May 13.The restoration project is testing the value of combining shellfish with eelgrass restoration, as scientists look for ways to restore the entire pond ecosystem. A full-scale eelgrass transplant led by Save the Bay occurred in Ninigret Pond in September, 2008.

Today’s hands-on transplant effort was coordinated by DEM Marine Fisheries, working with the R.I. Shellfishermen’s Association, whose members were contracted to harvest the clams.The shellfish were taken from “uncertified waters” in Greenwich Cove, where they are not allowed to be harvested for eating, and, after being tested to ensure they were healthy, placed in the spawner sanctuary, where they are also prohibited from being taken.By breeding in these protected areas, the shellfish will naturally extend the range of the clam population into areas with clean water, and healthy clams will seed and grow, providing recreational fishing opportunities as well as restoring the overall health of the Pond.

Volunteers for the effort, who are also being recruited for the May 13 transplant in Ninigret Pond are being coordinated by Save the Bay, renowned for its volunteer organizing capabilities; and the Salt Ponds Coalition, the local citizen volunteer monitoring group which has been the champion for protecting the health of the iconic South County ponds for decades.To sign up for the upcoming transplant, contact Rebekah Kepple at Save the Bay at (401) 315-2709; or e-mail: should be able to lift a 50-pound bag, and will have to provide their own gear, including closed-toe shoes or waders, and work gloves.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Chris Littlefield

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