Selecting a Beach to Survey

19 Kb jpeg image of dead shells in tideline

Choosing the correct beach at the start will make a big difference in the ease of doing a shellfish survey and the value of your scientific results.

The shellfish survey is done on sandy beaches, not on rocky or pebble beaches. There are several reasons for this. Rocky coasts often have such a wide range of species that simply trying to identify the creatures becomes a major task. They also tend to be more dangerous locations.

The ideal sandy beach to sample will have clear boundaries and markers to orient to (such as headlands or rocky reefs). You should aim to survey a whole beach, if possible, so select one that is not too large in terms of the length of the beach or the width of the tidal zone. Be sure to look at the beach at extreme low tide to get a good idea of its size.

The beach should have a known shellfish resource, especially if people think it is under pressure from harvesting.

The beach should not have large banks of dead shell material or other material that won't pass through the sieve. Otherwise the sieve gets clogged with large amounts of extra material and it takes a long time to sort out the live shellfish.

Be safe. Select a sheltered beach which rarely has breaking surf. It should be easy to get to and not involve climbing down dangerous slopes. There will be very few west coast beaches, other than in protected harbours that will be safe enough to survey.

Safety is paramount and . If there is any question, don't survey.

The sand or mud flats must be safe to walk on.

Do a preliminary survey

Keep records. All your information will be useful to your group in future.

Start a Beach Log Book to record information related to the study. The first section will include your preliminary search for a permanent research site. This information will be useful to help establish information on the distribution of shellfish in your area as well as throughout New Zealand.

Include any articles you can find that have been written about the beaches in your area. Some beaches have more than one name. What are the all the names given to the beaches? Are there stories that explain why these names were given to the beaches or the areas?

Conduct a survey of people who have lived by the beaches for many years. What changes have they seen in the shellfish? What do they like about the beaches? What are their concerns? Do they think the shellfish are safe to eat? What does the Regional Council say about tests of water quality and shellfish quality in the area?

What is the local Iwi? Do they have stories or memories of the condition of the shellfish beds in the past? Were there Rahui in days gone by? Is there a shellfish midden near the beach? Discuss the relationship between the presence of shellfish and the location of Maori settlements and their way of life.

Do people think there should be protection for the shellfish now? How many people know what the legal catch limit is?

Make a brief preliminary survey of proposed beach sites. Are there any cockle or pipi shells there or any other shellfish? Check along the high tide level for shell banks and dead shells.

If there are no shells and no evidence there were shells there, record this on your preliminary survey information and select another beach to survey. Again, this information will be valuable in assessing the distribution of shellfish in New Zealand, so take care with your preliminary surveys and keep the data in your field book.

If you find dead shells higher on the beach (see image above) or when you dig on a beach, but can't find living shells even after looking very carefully with people who know the area, try to determine what happened to the live ones. Once you are positive there are no living shellfish present, record your efforts to find live shells on that particular beach and select another one for your long-term survey -one where you can find some live shells to study.

If you would like to find out why the shellfish have vanished from a once prolific shellfish resource, begin with a local survey of residents - does anyone know when did the shellfish disappeared and why? Record their stories and then try to verify the most reasonable ones. You might want to recheck the beach the following year to see if there is a settlement of young shellfish. If so, this offers an opportunity to investigate what happens to them.