On Giant Clams, Atonement, and Exoskeleton

The churches and Churches in the Philippine Islands have been quite literally “cemented” by these Giant Clams (Tridacna gigas). These gastropods assimilate carbon and calcium, and secrete proteins in their mantles (conchiolin/ conchin – I just love the sound of this word, “kon-kin”) to host aragonite crystals that make their shells very hard. Exploited for construction and for food, the Giant Clam remains to be a threatened species that warrant conservation.

In the Catholic tradition of “atonement”, I found myself reuniting with my brother who I truly miss of late, at the Marine Science Institute’s (of the University of the Philippines) Giant Clam Farm Laboratory in Silaqui Island in Bolinao, Pangasinan, during the “Holy Week”.

Effort to conserve and make amends with the environment, similar to the idea of Atonement (in Catholic theology) is a way to reconcile “God” and “humankind” – to be both “godly” and “human/ humane” at the same time through the virtues of offering and dedication.

Tridacna gigas are truly inspirational for this process of reconciliation. For not only has the Giant clam been able to reconcile “eating its cake and having it too” (a truly optimal and expansive state of being), it also demonstrates tremendous dedication to its “cake” in its evolution and biology.

The “cake” is the dinoflagellate alga that the Tridacnid has found a way to “eat” (not to digest) but to ultimately “farm” on its exposed muscles at a young stage. Imagine having this kind of relationship with self-reproducing cream puffs!

But the most remarkable part for me is not that the Giant clams can live for hundreds of years (probably because of this symbiotic relationship with the dinoflagellate). But for most of its hundred-year giant adult life, it just positions itself, anchored and steadied in the bottom of the sea to the best interest of its “cake” in a gesture reminiscent of offering its algal colony to the much important sunlight. And that is quite the dedication and sense of commitment.

And so I have become a fan of the Tridacna gigas. I have come to appreciate more the creatures that seemingly have no spine, or have grown some kind of hardened shells on the outside because these are the creatures that perhaps offer the most tender, most giving, and softest meat on the inside.

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