Social Networks & the Clam Garden Network.

Photo: Nicole Smith.

Photo: Nicole Smith.

Vancouver is widely known for being one of the most livable cities, but its citizens are also notorious for being cold, stoic and unfriendly. Blinded in the whirlwind of daily life, many of us absent-mindedly rush from point A to point B with our eyes, ears and minds plugged into our iPhones. Gradually and unknowingly, we begin to neglect our communities and environment for a few extra minutes on Facebook. It is unfortunate as some of the most valuable connections are lost and meaningful conversations missed.

There exist cultures in which personal life is intertwined and recognized within the fabrics of society. A lifestyle based on shared knowledge and experiences. This is a foundation behind many First Nations’ cultures. As First Nations people have lived sustainably on this land for millennia, we are able to learn a unique perspective by connecting with their intimate knowledge of coastal systems honed over generations.

In this second instalment of the sustainable seafood series, we delve into a traditional First Nations’ mariculture technique, the clam garden, and the Clam Garden Network to ask what we can learn and apply to sustainable seafood and food security today. I had the opportunity to connect with Nicole Smith, an archeologist with the Clam Garden Network and Hakai Institute to gain further insights into clam gardens and their implications for the future.

Clam gardens are an ancient form of mariculture used by First Nations along the west coast of North America. Over a thousand years ago, the First Nations discovered that by building a rock wall at the low tide limit, they could create a terrace that maximizes the optimal growth range of clams in the intertidal zone. Butter clams have been known to grow four times bigger in clam gardens as compared to non-walled beaches.

Although the clams are not yet sold as a sustainable seafood option many clam gardens maintain healthy clam populations and habitat. While numerous clam gardens have already been documented between Alaska and Washington State, Nicole explains that the field research and discovery process is ongoing and slow. As clam gardens are often located in the lower intertidal and only visible about 40-80 daylight hours per year, it becomes an accessibility challenge of working within these strict time constraints.

Composed of diverse groups from various backgrounds, the Clam Garden Network is a collaborative group that includes First Nations, researchers, students, knowledge holders and resource managers. Through a multi-disciplinary approach of integrating culture, ecology and archeology, this group is aiming to understand clam gardens (how they were created, when they were created and where they are created) and to share this knowledge to effectively manage intertidal resources and ecosystems.

Clam gardens and the Clam Garden Network are all the buzz with the launch of their new website and a recent interview on CBC. Watch out for their publication in American Antiquity coming out later this year. If this post has inspired you to join the search and make a great clam garden discovery, look no further than their citizen science mobile app. It is still in the design stages, but in the next year or so, you can expect to channel your inner explorer by using it!

Increased awareness of clam gardens comes at a perfect time, as the food crisis, a double-edged problem, is one of the greatest challenges of our lifetime. If world population growth continues on its current trajectory, food production will have to increase by 70% to sustain earth’s population. On the other hand, food production is often associated with negative implications such as carbon emissions, land degradation and ocean depletion. Hence it becomes a tricky problem of producing more from less.

Clam gardens are a perfect example of how innovative approaches to today’s world challenges may stem from exploring traditional knowledge systems. We can find applications for these traditional mariculture techniques locally in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Currently Parks Canada and the Coast Salish Nations are restoring clam gardens, in order to understand the cultural and ecological benefits of these places and how they can reshape contemporary resource management strategies.

In a recent seminar at the University of British Columbia, SFU professor, Dana Lepofsky, discussed the founding of the Clam Garden Network. She explained that at the beginning of their research they had  several knowledge gaps about the rock wall structures used for clam gardens, but through dialogue with First Nations communities, they learned that clam gardens have been an integral part of many coastal First Nations’ cultures for generations.


Perhaps your next connection might not lead to a ground breaking revelation about food security, but since each conversation builds our knowledge and understanding about this world, maybe it’s time for us to start engaging and building connections within our communities.