Huxley’s Marco Hatch Conducting Summer Field Work in the San Juans

This summer, Western Washington University Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Marco Hatch is taking to the islands of the Pacific Northwest to study clam gardens.

“Clam gardens are intertidal areas that indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest have historically cultivated to harvest shellfish,” said Hatch.

Clam gardens are terraced in order to create ideal conditions, similarly to how farmers terrace hills to grow more grapes.

Hatch said he became interested in clam gardens while living and working with his tribe, the Samish Indian Nation, and studying traditional indigenous resource management. In his study, Hatch is comparing beaches that are actively managed by Coast Salish people to those that are unmanaged, to understand how active management may increase clam productivity. Specifically, he and his students are looking at the mechanisms of indigenous management through physical changes in beach sediment, geochemistry, and clam recruitment. Research has shown that clam gardens have increased clam density and growth rate compared to unmanaged beaches which leads to indigenous communities having greater access to food.  

 “Elders tell us that clam gardens, just like terrestrial gardens, need to be maintained,” said Hatch, and maintenance of these gardens can take many forms, such as removing larger clams so smaller ones can grow in their place.

“Clams live in a very specific intertidal area,” said Hatch, “If they live too high, they dry out, too low and they get eaten by sea stars. There is a ‘Goldilocks area’ that is perfect for clams.”

Hatch made clams a focus of his research in 2012, after completing his doctorate at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. This summer, he is traveling to the Southern Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands to continue his work with his research assistants, Western student Alexandria Trejo (Environmental Science, Spokane) and Northwest Indian College (NWIC) student Mariah Holiday (Native Environmental Science, Monument Valley, Utah).

Hatch’s research is unique because his team spends half their time in the field collecting samples and the other half working with local communities, an aspect he greatly enjoys.

“We have to do our science, but also stay on extra days to make sure we are interacting with communities and that we are sharing what we have learned,” said Hatch.

This research is part of a partnership between NWIC and Western called PAGE - Partnerships in Geoscience Education - funded by a five-year $1.65 million National Science Foundation grant. This partnership also provides funding for NWIC graduates to pursue a master’s degree in Environmental Science. 

Hatch also belongs to the Clam Garden Network, a collaboration between tribes, academics, researchers and resource managers. Together, the networks strives to bring back this tradition. 

For more information on his research on clam gardens, contact Marco Hatch, Western Washington University assistant professor of Environmental Science, at (360) 650-7589 or at