Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Mollusks
by Reed McManus
This summer, many staffers in the Sierra Club national office were as happy as clams to
discover that they work alongside one of the world's most respected experts on bivalve
mollusks. Gene Coan is not just senior advisor to the executive director and a Club
employee since 1971, he is also primary author of the recently released Bivalve
Seashells of Western North America (Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, $99).
Over the course of 11 years, Coan and his two co-authors left no stone unturned in their
effort to catalog 472 clam, oyster, mussel, and scallop species from central Baja to
Arctic Alaska, from intertidal zones to nearly three miles deep in the Pacific. A review
in a shellfishery-industry newsletter called the 764-page tome "an instant
So what's the relevance to those of us who need to look up "malacology" in
the dictionary to know it's the branch of zoology that deals with mollusks? Most clams eat
by filtering microscopic food out of the water, and in the process consume and store
marine pollutants. Government agencies monitor ocean pollution by keeping tabs on bivalve
health. So besides sating the curiosity of ardent beachcombers, books such as Coan's
provide a comprehensive review that scientists can use to study environmental change over
And that's why Coan's day job at the Club melds so neatly with his research
associations at the California Academy of Sciences, the Natural History Museum of Los
Angeles, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. "We can't protect the
natural environment and the creatures that live in it unless we know what's there,"
he says. Sierra Club founder John Muir, who reminded us that "everything is
hitched," would be proud to know that Coan has ensured that even the Aleutian cockle
and the Catalina glass-scallop are part of that big picture.
Bivalve Seashells of Western North America is available at selected bookstores and
through the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History's Web site at http://sbnature.org/atlas/bivbook.htm.
To make your voice count on environmental issues, write or call your U.S. senators and
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U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
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Contact President Clinton at:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Comment line (202) 456-1111
Fax (202) 456-2461
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