Pacific Northwest
Carol Avery, tribal youth and climate liaison for the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, takes a rock to pass down the line on Aug. 11. Benjamin Leung / Skagit Valley Herald

WA - Swinomish tribe building first modern clam garden in the U.S.

Tribes and First Nations have used clam gardens for thousands of years to adapt to sea level rise, said Marco Hatch, lead of the garden’s technical advisory board.

Rock after rock were passed by hand down to the shoreline of the Kukutali Preserve.

A line of tribal and First Nation members, community members, members of environmental organizations and others stretched to the shoreline — a human conveyor belt moving rocks down to the water.

Standing in the waters of Kiket Bay, Joe Williams, the shellfish community liaison for the Swinomish Fisheries Department, set the rocks down at the tide’s edge.

A knee-high rock wall stretched down the length of the shoreline.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community put down the foundation for the first modern clam garden in the United States on Aug. 12 — a project six years in the making.

For thousands of years, Coastal First Nations and Native Americans of Washington and Alaska constructed clam gardens to create healthy shellfish habitats for marine farming, according to the Clam Garden Network’s website.

Through the construction of rock walls at low tide, the accumulation of sediment over time levels out rocky or sloping shorelines.

And as sediment, gravel, and broken shells and barnacles build within the wall, the shoreline will flatten out into a terrace-like feature that will be up to three times more productive for shellfish growth.

When completed, the Swinomish clam garden will stretch 200 feet in length, and measure 4 feet wide and no more than 2 feet high.

In addition to providing the tribe with a sustainable source of traditional food for future generations, the Swinomish clam garden will revive an ancient cultural practice and reduce the impacts of climate change on clams and clam habitats.

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Clams and culture

In planning the clam garden, the garden’s technical advisory board talked with community members to identify priorities for the garden.

What the board heard was that it should be a gathering place for sharing intergenerational knowledge as well as for harvesting traditional food.

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