Conchservation, pronounced konk-servation, is the national campaign aimed at protecting Queen Conch in The Bahamas through research, citizen science, and policy change. The Conchservation Project team approached the Minister responsible for the Department of Marine Resources, the government agency managing marine life in the country, when ecological data showed there was a decline in conch stocks. The Minister specifically requested documented engagement with the Bahamian public and the fishermen, and a comprehensive stock assessment throughout The Bahamas before proceeding with changing the current legislation. Conchservation is designed to capture this information while preserving the Queen Conch.
For up to the minute updates on the campaign go to www.facebook.com/conchservation.
While marine life is important to many Caribbean countries, the queen conch (Strombus gigas) is intrinsic to the Bahamian way of life. Depletion of conch stocks would be devastating to The Bahamas ecologically, socially, and economically. Research from Community Conch show conch densities are decreasing in commercially fished areas to levels that will not sustain the populations and stocks in marine protected areas (MPA) are also declining because recruitment beyond the park boundaries is insufficient to support the population within the MPA. Compounding this issue is the depletion of the Bahamian conch stock may lead to depletion in other areas because conch larvae can drift along ocean current up to a month, potentially supplying other stocks in the region. More research is needed to verify this. Additionally, Queen Conch is listed in Appendix II of CITES. which limits its export from The Bahamas. Despite this fact, Queen Conch shells and artifacts made from them are highly sought after souvenirs from The Bahamas.
Ecologically - Conch is a major player in the marine food web. Removing it from the food wood could lead to a cascading negative impact on the marine resources in The Bahamas. Conch eggs and larvae are a part of the zooplankton in the region that feed planktivores. IUCN listed endangered and vulnerable species like sharks, turtles, and spotted eagles rays feed on conch. Other marine species like sea stars, triggerfish, lobster, octopus and hermit crabs also feed on conch. Hermit crabs and other opportunists use the shell of dead conchs as a habitat. Removing this food source and habitat could impact these species.
The demand for seafood shifts to the next available species when the targeted fishery has declined or crashed. Neighboring countries have followed this trend and have all targeted the parrotfish. Research is showing the parrotfish are important species to the coral reef due to their 1) displacing algae habit when feeding which creates available space on the reef for young corals to recruit, and 2) ability to produce large volumes of sand when coral skeletons are broken down through parrotfish digestion. Removing parrotfish from the reef would mean a decrease in biodiversity on the reef and less available sand contributing to the natural beach development and sand cycling process. Both impacts will lead to further degradation of critical habitats.
Another element to consider is the queen conch grazes in seagrasses, cleaning algae from seagrass blades. Without consistent grazing, algae can overgrow the seagrass essentially smothering it because seagrasses require sunlight to photosynthesize. Research has shown that healthy seagrass habitats play a role in reducing coastal erosion because their root system stabilizes sediments. Furthermore, ecosystem services provided by seagrasses are ranked with tropical rainforests and coral reefs.
Socially & Culturally - At Bahamian social gatherings, it is expected to have conch readily available for purchase or consumption. The Bahamas is an archipelago with a widespread population. The country’s capital is home to 70% of the population mainly due to availability of jobs and reliable access to healthcare. Each island has its own culture and often speech pattern. Several islands in the archipelago host conch fests and homecomings at different parts of the year. Conch Fests (festivals) are centered on a variety of dishes made from conch. Conch cracking competitions are also featured. Conch cracking refers to extracting the conch meat from the shell. Homecoming events are meant to welcome Bahamians living in the capital to their respective home islands. Conch is typically a part of the celebrations. Reuniting with family and reconnecting with the various local cultures on the different islands help solidify the hodgepodge culture of the country.
Economically – In many islands, living off the land and sea is commonplace, having a combination of subsistence and commercial fishermen. In fact, the harvesting and sale of conch alone supports entire island economies in several ways. Tourism is the main source of income for the country and a conch dish is often one of the first dishes many visitors to the islands avidly seek. Because conch is a staple to the local diet, fishermen know there is a quick sale waiting at the dock for their catch. Craftsmen harvest and polish the shells for sale or use in jewelry and construction. Historically, lime kilns were made to break down the conch shells for use in construction.
Building Awareness - With the support of the Sandals Bahamas foundation, Conchservation developed a Public Service Announcement (PSA) explaining the threats to the Queen Conch and encouraging viewers to follow the current legislation. – (show on loop). Educators and students were targeted through teacher training workshops and the My Science My Conch initiative. Conchservation promoted legal harvest of the Queen Conch at several Conch Fests throughout the year and launched a Facebook Page to help reach a wider audience. Conchservation paraphernalia produced were distributed widely to stimulate conversation on the importance of the Queen Conch.
Data Collection – To develop a holistic and realistic management plan for the fishery, focus groups targeting conch fishermen were designed and executed to capture the needs of the fishermen. Local and international Marine Science experts and seafood exporters were also interviewed. Information from each group will be incorporated into the Management Plan for the fishery.
Stock Assessment – Conch surveys were completed in Ragged Island and Jumento Cays and the Tongue of the Ocean. Genetic analysis of conch populations began to identify source and sink populations in The Bahamas.
A national phone survey (landlines only) to capture the general public’s Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAP) related to the Queen Conch was conducted. Information from the KAP is summarized below. Local organizations were trained to conduct a KAP survey using cutting edge technology.