Saving giant clams in the South Pacific

In 1992, I produced this story for the ABC Science environment program A Question of Survival. It was about a joint Australian-Fijian project to restore the giant clam population in the Pacific’s coral reefs. 

As a kid, I’d seen a news story about how the Pacific’s giant clam population had been devastated by illegal poaching – mostly from Taiwan. I never imagined that I would ever see a giant clam for myself. 

Years later when I got to make this story, I went searching the ABC archives for footage from that original story that I’d seen as a kid – the ABC couldn’t find any record of it – at least, not in their computer database. It turned out that the original story that I had remembered was made in 1966. Almost 30 years before! Amazing how some TV images can stick in your mind for so long!

It had been a segment in a TV program called Weekend Magazine, and the reason the ABC film library had such difficulty in finding the original program was that it was made long before the ABC archives had any computerised record system. The record of the original story was found on a cardboard index card – and from that record we were able to find the original 16mm film of the story. I incuded some of that footage in my story.

My story was about the efforts to repopulate Pacific reefs with these gentle but very important giants. 

Dr John Lucas and his team from Queensland’s James Cook University had developed a method to culture/breed the giant clams in captivity and in the process, discovered the extraordinary productivity of these bottom-dwelling behemoths. Giant clams are animals which can harness energy from photosynthesis much like a plant, but can also feed like an animal. They can produce more protein than our best cattle on our best pastures. 

The breeding technology was transferred to develop hatcheries in the South Pacific where the clams are now reared until they are big enough and tough enough to survive on their own, before they are re-located to the fringing ocean reefs. 

The process not only restores an important part of the marine ecosystem — the clams provide habitat and shelter for small fish, but when “farmed” in this way they can become a sustainable source of traditional food for the local villages.