2019 registration now available through North Zone Community School Coordinator Susan M’Gonigle (sm’


Information about Varnish Clams   Resources for Teachers   Resources for Volunteers

NS3 and VIU’s Citizen Science Project


Citizen science, the involvement of the general public in scientific inquiry, has increased the scope of biology projects by organizing volunteers to collect data and participate in long-term scientific studies. In the fall of 2014, the NS3 collaborated with researchers at Vancouver Island University (VIU) and Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and piloted a Citizen Science intertidal sampling program that monitors the dynamics of an introduced bivalve species.

Due to the success of the pilot project, the Citizen Science Project will now continue as a long-term study involving not only staff and volunteers from VIU and NS3, but also junior scientists from grade 5 classes within Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools.

As part of NS3’s Citizen Science project students willDSC_1093

⇒ make observations and predictions
⇒ experience and interpret the local environment
⇒ observe, measure and record data using appropriate tools
⇒ identify patterns and connections in data
⇒ identify social, ethical, and environmental implications of their findings

Varnish Clam Nuttallia obscurata

Varnish Clams

Varnish Clams




Commonly known as the Varnish Clam, Nuttallia obscurata, is an introduced species originally from Korea, China and Southern Japan that is suspected to have been introduced into the Pacific coastal waters via ballast water from ships. Varnish clams are mainly found in the upper one-third of the tidal zone, although it can also be found in the middle and lower tidal zones along the west coast from Oregon up to British Columbia.


Varnish clam (right) with hole drilled by Moonsnail

First observed in B.C. waters in the early 1990’s, they can now be found in abundance with numbers of reaching up to 800 individuals per square meter. Varnish clams have a shiny brown oval-shaped shell with a purple interior. The exterior tends to darken as it transitions from a juvenile to an adult. It is a burrowing species that can live fairly deep, down to about 30cm, in a substrate. Most commonly it is found in sand or gravel type substrates.

During the early spring to fall spawning season, females have been observed to have between 40 000 and 6 000 000 eggs depending on location and water temperatures. Predators of the Varnish clam include raccoons, various crab species, Lewis Moonsnails, Glacous-winged gulls and northwestern crows. Even though it is considered an invasive species, it appears to co-exist with several other species such as the little-neck clams. Although Varnish clams provide an additional food source for predators and it is commercially fished, it is not very popular with humans.


Adapted from: History of Nuttallia obscurata by Jeraldine Marshall
To view entire paper, click here.

Back to Top

Attention Grade 5 Teachers

NS3 is currently signing up grade 5 classes to participate in our spring 2019 citizen science sampling days. Please see our Citizen Science Flyer for more information on how to sign up your grade 5 class.

What to expect:


Each class will be on the beach for one hour, during which they will learn about the alien species lurking in our waters – the varnish clam! Students are split into groups, with each group in charge of collecting unique data by digging 10-15cm below the substrate and collecting any bivalves they found along the way. The bivalves are then measured, identified, recorded and then put back in the sand.

The students are also able to spend time at the Education Tent where they try their hand at seaweed pressing, explore the diversity of the intertidal under microscopes, and test their bivalve identification knowledge.
Back to Top

Copyright 2019 | Nanaimo Science and Sustainability Society (NS3)