Coquina Clams

Living in a flat, landlocked part of the state is hard for me. I feel pulled in two opposite directions at all times. When the mountains aren’t calling me home, the ocean is.

And it’s not just the stunning landscapes that I miss; it’s the little things. Things like the scent of hay dancing on Haywood County’s breezes and the laughter of seagulls in New Hanover. I long for the most random things; water fresh from the well in Canton and haint blue in Wilmington.

I try not to dwell on these things. But every once in a while, something brings these little delights to the surface of my mind. On Monday, it was the coquina clams in the sands of Holden Beach.

Coquina Clams

This time of year, the 1-inch, wedge-shaped clams look like gemstones scattered along the shoreline. They tumble through the waves and then bury themselves in the wet sand.

The brilliantly colored bivalves come in a rainbow of shades. Their intact shells look like butterflies, explaining their nickname: butterfly-shell clams.

Growing up, I was fascinated by the little mollusks. I spent hours unearthing them, placing them on the sand, and watching them burrow back in. Years later, I relished seeing Bug and Belle do the same.

Besides being fun to play with and observe, the clams are a critical food source for fish and shorebirds. Sandpipers love them. And though they’re tiny, people eat them too.

During colonial times, settlers depended on the coquina for food. Like Native Americans, they made chowders and broths from the small clams. Even today, some folks consider them a delicacy.

Back then, the Eastern seaboard was overflowing with coquina. There were so many on our warm shores that they formed a limestone foundation around the East Coast.

Today, coquina clams are considered an indicator species. Their presence signifies a healthy beach.

I can’t imagine a beach without them. Coquinas are everywhere on the North Carolina shore. I guess that means I grew up on a healthy coast.

I’m thankful for that. What would the world be like without the pretty coquina clam to beckon me back home?

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