Clam gardens

Reviving the Past to Protect the Future: Developing a Social-Ecological Clam Garden Site Selection Model

Researchers are creating a model to determine the best place to install the first present-day clam garden in the U.S.

Principal Investigator

Julie Barber, Senior Shellfish Biologist, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Fisheries Department

Co-Principal Investigators

Jamie Donatuto, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community


The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is reviving an ancient mariculture practice by installing the first known present-day clam garden in the United States. Long-term goals are to enhance native clam populations, support local food security, provide ecological and cultural benefits, and promote integration of traditional ecological knowledge in contemporary resource management and climate change adaptation strategies. The project will complete the first of four steps to develop a clam garden – applying a social-ecological decisions framework that considers both people and their environment. The site selection model will be used for future clam gardens.

Research Updates


Clam gardens are traditional cultural ecosystems from the Pacific Northwest coast in which Indigenous people have built rock wall terraces and made other modifications in tidal waters to cultivate clams and other important marine foods. Building a clam garden in modern-day Washington could promote the integration of Indigenous knowledge into contemporary resource management, strengthen local food security, increase nearshore biodiversity, support tribal treaty rights, build climate change resilience, and address tribal health and well-being. The first, and arguably most important, step is selecting an optimal site for the clam garden installation.


Results Thus Far

Over the first year of the project, the group focused on building relationships with experts and knowledge holders in British Columbia, where historic clam gardens have been well-documented. They also gathered first-hand information from these sites on clam garden construction, management and restoration, and associated ecological and socio-cultural aspects. In the summer of 2018, the researchers focused on designing a community-based clam garden site selection model. Staff and elder input were used to map ecological and social factors for locating a clam garden on Swinomish Reservation tidelands, including factors such as water and sediment quality, and absence of conflicting uses and culturally sensitive areas.