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Homefront | Youth in Wilderness | Bivalve Mollusks | Express Yourself

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 classic."

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 time.

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

Express Yourself

To make your voice count on environmental issues, write or call your U.S. senators and representative at:

U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

U.S. Capitol Switchboard
(202) 224-3121

Contact President Clinton at:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Comment line (202) 456-1111
Fax (202) 456-2461

To join the Sierra Club activist network, write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail activist.desk Members of the network receive a free subscription to The Planet, our monthly activist newsletter, and the Sierra Club Action Daily, an e-mail update.

For a guide to our electronic mailing lists and newsgroups, go to

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