Oh, man, do I love conch!
When I lived in Honduras, I was fortunate enough to get out to Roatan every few weeks for diving, Garifuna music, good food, and relaxation. One of the best parts for me was the near daily serving of conch. Usually it was as conch salad, but I love them in fritters as well. Unfortunately, Honduras Queen Conch are still being heavily fished, even though their numbers have decline very sharply since tourism increased.
Three conch shells
in the mangroves.
Photo ©Eric Heupel
And Belize... During my recent trip to Belize at South Water Cay and Carrie Bow Cay, there were only a handful of live conch to be seen, but hundreds of empty shells. Most of the live individuals were 2-3 years old. This is very disconcerting for a species which doesn't reach full size until 4-5 years and can live for up to 40 years. The large number of empty shells were often occupied by damselfish (Stegastes spp., especially beaugregories, who use them as shelter and nesting grounds, the little buggers can be quite aggressive about it as well (a study of that aggression was one of the things we studied there.)
Steve Palumbi has a nice Micro-Documentary movie about the
lifecycle of Conch at the Garthwait & Griffin Films MicroDoc website. Just found out that all the microdocs are now available on DVD through them. (They are also at Palumbi Lab at Stanford.)
If you love reefs, seagrass beds, and invertebrates, how can you not love the conch, a giant marine mollusk that helps keep macro algae under control? And they taste good. Oh, wait...except the whole CITES II listing and dangerously decreasing population, conservation...
Well, it looks like there are a few successful, complete life cycle conch ranching operations and Rick reports on the one in Turks & Caicos, Caicos Conch Farm, which appears to be doing a great job of helping wild conch populations, while continuing to provide a sustainable source of conch meat and shells.
guarding its conch shell.
Photo ©Eric Heupel