The Funny Thing About The Food Chain

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo courtesy of aquaculturealliance.org

It is the last week of summer and the idyllic seaside village of Narragansett in Rhode Island is enjoying a spate of clear weather. The place is always teeming with tourists in the summer. Now, except for stragglers savoring the last few days left of summer, the place is almost empty. The shops have closed for the season. Nonetheless, there are still a few surfers left who are chasing the waves in mid-afternoon when the breeze is strong enough for decent surfs.

I get up bright and early this morning and out I go before the sun is ready to peek in the horizon. From my hotel I look out toward the Narragansett Bay. The water gleams golden, and the lone ship looming in the calm horizon is ablaze, shimmering in the breaking light of dawn. It is a phenomenal sight. Running by the beach where the sand is firm and flat in low tide has been friendly to my aging knees. It is refreshing and exhilarating experience to run against the cool breeze in the empty and desolate beach. I thoroughly enjoy such a rare treat. The sound of the waves rushing and pounding on the shore, the calls of seagulls hunting for their meal, and the hum of the wind against my face are all that filled the space around me as I navigate a three-mile stretch of the shore.

“Clams grow as big as burger buns in this region famous for clam chowder. A particularly large variety called Quahog or Chowder can be picked up while walking on the sand during low tide. Nobody is harvesting them, except the seagulls.”

Clams grow as big as burger buns in this region famous for clam chowder. A particularly large variety called Quahog or Chowder can be picked up while walking on the sand during low tide. Nobody is harvesting them, except the seagulls. Using their beaks, they would push the clams further up on the sandy shore with a great deal of patience. This is where my chance encounter of the small link in the food chain by the beach of Narragansett begins.

During my running, I chance upon clams that dot the shoreline like rocks, half-buried and washed by the tides in the sand. I start to pick them up, worried that they are going to die soon from lack of water under the hot sun and throwing them back onto the water. I do this all the way to the end of my route, feeling happy that I am saving the poor clams from scorching death, until I notice several clam shells with valves gaping open but empty.

“The only chance for a hearty meal of chowder is for them to wait for clams to die when their bivalve shells open to expose the clam’s meat. No wonder the seagulls look at me with contempt while I throw their hard-earned meals back onto the water.”

Then it dawns on me: “The seagulls are pushing clams up the sandy shore away from the water to wait their demise.” The seagull’s beak is no match to the Quahog’s hardy shell. The only chance for a hearty meal of chowder is for them to wait for clams to die when their bivalve shells open to expose the clam’s meat. No wonder the seagulls look at me with contempt while I throw their hard-earned meals back onto the water.

The seagulls of Narragansett have fished for clams for ages, and today I interfered with this food chain, albeit briefly. I reflected on how such similar transgressions by man occur on a regular basis, upsetting the balance of things.

“We used to dig for clams during low tides, and each clam we dug brought so much pleasure in finding a good catch. At the time, thinking of the food chain and keeping the balance in nature were farthest from my mind. Who does when one is poor and hungry?”

My experience while running by the beach of Narragansett jogged my memory back to my fishing village in Bicol, my ancestral home in the Philippines. We used to dig for clams during low tides, and each clam we dug brought so much pleasure in finding a good catch. At the time, thinking of the food chain and keeping the balance in nature were farthest from my mind. Who does when one is poor and hungry?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

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