Giant clams on brink of extinction in Pacific
A New Zealand marine biologist says drastic measures must be taken to save Pacific giant clam populations which he says are on the brink of extinction in much of the region.
A marine biologist in New Zealand says drastic measures must be taken to save Pacific giant clam populations which he says are on the brink of extinction in much of the region.
Dr Charley Waters has spent the last 12 years researching and working to restore giant clam populations in the Cook Islands' Aitutaki lagoon.
He told Koroi Hawkins the clams can no longer cope with ongoing over-harvesting.
CHARLEY WATERS: I use the term functionally extinct. To mean that while there's some clams left on the lagoon or on a reef, their distances are too far apart for reproduction to occur. So global organisations have listed them as threatened or endangered but that doesn't really tell us much.
KOROI HAWKINS: And what is being done to help them recover?
CW: Well there are various programmes that are trying to do things. It's an example of we've taken millions and millions and millions of these organisms out of the water and we are trying to restore their populations by putting in 15 or 20 at a time. So what we're hoping is if we put in 50 at a time that reproduction will occur and populations will begin to increase. But there's a massive discrepancy between the time it takes to restore populations versus extinguish them.
KH: There's also this huge market you're talking about is also generated internationally, there is some want or demand for these clams overseas as well isn't there?
CW: Yes, there are certain markets for them, one of them is a source of food as in sushi, another is they are very popular with large aquariums, you know the major metropolitan museums but as well as the hobbyists, someone who has a little coral display in an aquarium in their homes wants these clams as well. The shells are used as ornaments, the abductor muscle, that's a particular muscle that holds the clam together, is perceived as an aphrodisiac in some cultures. So the meat, the shells, you know, whether they're alive or dead all have markets. So they're in high demand.
KH: And the science - is it too late for giant clams?
CW: A better question is is it too late for us, is it too late for humans? Scientifically it is a no brainer. We reproduce these things and grow them by the tens of thousands in raceways in the Cook Islands but the people don't leave them alone once we put them back in the lagoon. The question as to whether or not it is too late for the clams is it depends on whether or not we want to be patient with our consumption and unfortunately the answer is with many marine organisms, no.
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