People, Ponds, and Gardens


A clam garden on the BC coast (above, image © Tla’amin First Nation and Simon Fraser University Archaeology) and He‘eia fishpond (below).

It has been about five months since I left Hawai‘i for the chilly Pacific Northwest. While I have dearly missed He‘eia fishpond, I was recently pleasantly surprised by another human-ecological structure here in the Pacific Northwest: they’re called clam gardens. They’re rock walls built along the coast by First Nations people. Tides slowly deposit sediment behind the rock wall, creating a sort of dish of muddy sand protected from wave action by the wall. These clam gardens extend the ideal clam habitat seaward. They also provide a protected environment for clams to grow, and grow they do: marine ecologist Dr. Anne Salomon from Simon Fraser University recently presented some data at the NOAA fisheries science center in Seattle that shows higher survivorship and growth of clams in the higher reaches of clam gardens. People removed predators and competitors, encouraging the growth of butter clams, razor clams, and other species. Clams could then be harvested when food was scarce. Sound familiar?

Clam gardens were owned and maintained by certain family groups, who would share the resources with other groups. Clam gardens on the BC coast may be 2,000 to 4,000 years old, and though they are rarely distinguishable to the untrained eye, many are still standing and holding sediment. Several First Nations groups would like to bring back the use of clam gardens– they would reinforce social connections and provide a secure source of food as they did before.

Dr. Salomon and some of her colleagues also measured oxygen isotopes in butter clam shells found at clam garden sites to determine individual growth rates. Dr. Dana Lepofsky, an archaeologist from Simon Fraser University is studying ancient middens, or trash piles, to reconstruct the history of clam and fish management along the coast of what is now Canada and Washington.  This work is founded on an essential cornerstone of culture and management: that people have been stewards and long-term participants in coastal ecosystems, and can be again in the future.


Salomon, Anne. Monster JAM seminar, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center. February 7, 2013.


One Response to “People, Ponds, and Gardens”
  1. Larry says:

    Some nice landscape, thanks for sharing!

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  • Mahalo Nui Loa

    I recently graduated from the Donahue Lab at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and am currently a graduate student at the University of Washington. This research is funded by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, as well a scholarship from the Seattle chapter of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Foundation.
  • “Where do ecological ideas come from? …Most do not spring deductively from the minds of ecologists, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Instead, they emerge when ecologists absorb the essential spirit of individual places– their genius loci.”

    ~Mary V. Price & Ian Billick, "The Ecology of Place"
  • “Aloha is the intelligence with which we meet life.”

    ~Olana A'i, Kumu Hula

  • “I no longer say ‘Hawaiian ways of knowing’ anymore. Because people relegate that to the margins. ‘Ways of knowing,’ as if it’s a quaint, anthropologic way of describing something outside us. No, it’s ‘epistemology,’ the philosophy of knowledge. Land educates. ‘Ike ‘aina. The land of your birth educates you. This land here educates you.”

    ~Manu Meyer

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