Assessments of the impact of construction, operation, and removal of large infrastructures and other human activities on the marine environment are limited because they do not fully quantify the background baseline conditions and relevant scales of natural variability. Baselines as defined in Environmental Impact Assessments typically reflect the status of the environment and its variability drawn from published literature and augmented with some short term site specific characterization. Consequently, it can be difficult to determine whether a change in the environment subsequent to industrial activity is within or outside the range of natural background variability representative of an area over decades or centuries. An innovative approach that shows some promise in overcoming the limitations of traditional baseline monitoring methodology involves the analysis of shell material (sclerochronology) from molluscs living upon or within the seabed in potentially affected areas. Bivalves especially can be effective biomonitors of their environment over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. A rapidly expanding body of research has established that numerous characteristics of the environment can be reflected in morphological and geochemical properties of the carbonate material in bivalve shells, as well as in functional responses such as growth rates. In addition, the annual banding pattern in shells can provide an absolute chronometer of environmental variability and/or industrial effects. Further, some species of very long-lived bivalves can be crossdated back in time, like trees, by comparing these annual banding patterns in their shells. It is therefore feasible to develop extended timeseries of certain marine environmental variables that can provide important insights into long temporal scales of baseline variability. We review recent innovative work on the shell structure, morphology, and geochemistry of bivalves and conclude that they have substantial potential for use as monitors of environmental variability and the effects of pollutants and disturbance.
Steinhardt, J., Butler, P. G., Carroll, M. L., & Hartley, J. (2016). The application of long-lived bivalve sclerochronology in environmental baseline monitoring. Frontiers in Marine Science. Frontiers Media S. A. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2016.00176