A Shout Out for the Scallop

Kathryn Markey is one of the 2013 winners of the Nikon Small World in Motion contest. Nikon Small World in Motion is a sister competition to Nikon’s image contest, Nikon Small World, and focuses on the trend in digital photomicrography of recording movies or digital time-lapse photography through the microscope.

Markey’s winning submission focused on the scallop, which we agree is an extremely interesting creature deserving of more attention. As Markey’s movie shows there is more to this creature than being part of someone’s dinner. So, we asked Markey to elaborate on her favorite shellfish, her research, and why more people should take time to appreciate these environmentally-friendly mollusks.

The scallop is such a unique animal to fall in love with!  How did you discover them?

The high school I attended is a marine science and aquaculture high school, The Sound School in New Haven, Connecticut. When I was a junior, we got to pick an animal we were interested in, learn about it and culture it in an aquaculture setting. Some people chose clownfish or freshwater fish like trout – but we also had opportunities to work with shellfish. I didn’t know much about shellfish or aquaculture at the time, but I knew I loved the ocean, having always lived by the water. So when the teacher said we had the opportunity to work with bay scallops I said, “sure.” I didn’t know what I was getting into, but that year, I learned to culture them and from there, I learned I liked hands-on activities such as that.

My senior year, I asked if I could dive a little deeper into my studies of them and my school allowed me to do that. I did a comparative study of growing them indoors and outdoors, in different climates, using different aquaculture techniques, etc. Through that I learned more about their biology and what they were capable of doing. I learned they could swim, had eyes, are hermaphroditic – all sorts of interesting things. From that point on, I was hooked!

Describe how your studies continued once you entered college.

I went to college at the University of Rhode Island and studied aquaculture for both my bachelors and masters degrees. I actually stepped away from shellfish until my graduate career.  At that point, I started working with oysters and realized again just how much I loved working with shellfish. I wasn’t sure I was going to work with scallops again, but when I was hired by Roger Williams University in its diagnostics lab and got re-oriented and remembered how much I had enjoyed working with them previously.

How do you work with shellfish now?

Right now, I work in the Aquatic Diagnostic Lab (ADL), adjacent to the Luther H.  Blount Shellfish Hatchery (part of Roger Williams University). It is the only aquatic diagnostic lab and shellfish hatchery in the state of Rhode Island. The ADL is connected to the hatchery— so we cross-pollinate. The hatchery produces scallops every year for an effort called Save the Bay, referring to Narragansett Bay. The shellfish grown are released into various spawning sanctuaries. So every year broodstock are conditioned and induced to spawn after they are fed the algae they need to grow gonads, and then we watch the larvae develop into juveniles, also known as spat scallops.

Additionally, we conduct finfish and shellfish disease work – which is important, because we can help other aquaculture farmers from across the northern east coast assess the status of disease in their stocks.  (Most of the shellfish diseases we study don’t harm humans.)

What should the general public know about why shellfish – and your research of them – are important?

Shellfish are filter feeders; they constantly filter the water in which they live. In my movie for Nikon Small World in Motion, in fact, if you look closely, you’ll see the particles being directed into the animal, which includes food, algae, debris in the water, and more. Shellfish eat anything in the water, even if it’s not food – and by doing so they clean it. So when we release shellfish back into the water, we do it not only try to bring the population back—but we can also improve the quality of a body of water, fixing problems like excessive nutrients, too much algae and more. In fact, sometimes, we produce them specifically for this purpose. So if you love the water, shellfish are what keeps it healthy. They’re a natural protector of the environment!