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Clams to the rescue

Ropate Valemei
Saturday, December 15, 2012

THE giant clam shell has become an important module in the process of repopulating depleted coral reefs around the Fiji waters and the globe.

And the Mamanuca Environment Society (MES) has been assisting resorts in the Mamanuca group of islands with its conservation because they are one of the most ecologically important organisms in a coral reef.

Society media and public relations officer Emosi Lasaqa said like hard corals, giant clams used symbiotic zooanthallae algae to produce a shell that added to the reef structure.

"Clams are known as a keystone species, they clean nutrients from the water that could otherwise go towards the growth of macro algae, smothering and killing corals," Mr Lasaqa said.

He said they distributed a fresh batch of 310 young giant clams to three resorts in the Mamanuca last month, a long journey of about 160 miles from Makogai Island Marine Research Station in the north eastern side of Viti Levu to Mamanuca.

The move was made possible through the partnership of the Ministry of Fisheries and the society with Tokoriki Island Resort, Mana Island Resort and Matamanoa Island Resort.

"The Giant Clam Regeneration Project was initiated in 2005 but at Tokoriki Island Resort, it started way back in 2000 by Dive Tropex in conjunction with the Ministry of Fisheries," Mr Lasaqa said.

"In fact, Tokoriki was the first resort in the west of Fiji to plant giant clams. Their dive site is called Magic Mushroom and the clams are the major attraction with more than 100 clams of various species."

He said a single giant clam could filter hundreds of litres of water in a single day.

"Research into the reproduction culture of giant clams has become an important module in the process of repopulating depleted coral reefs around the globe.

"Farming giant clams is a slow process that takes several years. It takes 3-10 years for giant clams to mature from larvae into a clam large enough to be safe on the reef."

He said the project was exceptionally successful. "It has met its objectives and developed institutions and local capacities to sustain and expand project results," Mr Lasaqa said.

He said the large number of volunteers indicated this project was perceived as an attractive initiative which provided a sense of ownership, achievement and opportunities for development.

"All the clams we have been planting in the Mamanuca are from Makogai Island. At the dive site, the clams are measured and catalogued then placed in a sack and carried down to the cages where they were painstakingly but successfully laid to rest — alive of course in catalogued order."

He said the small clams, which were four to six centimetres long, were planted in one to five metres deep as they needed a rocky base and a lot of sunlight to grow.

"The bigger ones are planted in deeper waters measuring eight metres in depth at least. Once planted the cages are closed and wired down. The cage offers protection to clams, particularly the small ones from snails, rays, octopus, crabs, flatworms and fish," Mr Lasaqa said.

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