It’s just before dawn in the salt marsh and the tide is low. Herons and sandpipers are already busy looking for breakfast. Several seagulls fly by with crabs in their beaks. Birds aren’t the only creatures looking for food at this hour. Motor boats can be heard in the distance. The clammers are out, their silhouettes barely discernible in several spots in the marsh.
Considering the large number of people out in the marsh digging for clams at a time when most would rather be in bed, the effort must have its rewards. The work is back-breaking and the mosquitoes are a nuisance. A young clammer was diligently at work with his short pitchfork when I photographed him. He said the pay was good for skilled diggers, but he didn’t consider himself a very good one.
Clammers find clams by looking for their breathing holes in the sand. Though some clams may just be a few inches below the surface, others may be down a foot in the mud. Clammers make use of spades, pitchforks or their hands to find them.
Clams should not be harvested during periods of algal bloom, known also as Red Tide, when phytoplankton increase in concentration in the marine environment. Warning signs are frequently posted at a location near Rainbow Haven Beach where boats are launched into the marsh area. Contaminated clams don’t have a particular taste and toxins cannot be eliminated by cooking or freezing. The paralytic shellfish poisoning caused by harmful algal blooms (HABs) can cause death.
Clams play an important role in the ecosystem by filtering water. A large clam can filter about a gallon of water in an hour. Their presence is an indicator of the health of the environment.