For queen conch in the Bahamas, “time may be running out”

Conch and seagrass beds, Grand Bahama. Image: Dave Wilson

A recent article from Monga Bay analyses the worrying decline in populations of queen conch (Strombus gigas) in the Bahamas:

It’s hard to adequately describe the importance of conch to the Bahamas. Conchs are ingrained in the culture; there are conch festivals, conch homecomings and conch-cracking competitions. On the Bahamian coat of arms, a queen conch takes pride of place, sitting right at the top.

But new research finds that the queen conch (Strombus gigas), economically important as food and for its decorative shell, is facing unprecedented fishing pressure throughout its Caribbean range.

The study in the Marine Ecology Progress Series journal found widespread decline and an aging population among the conchs of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP), a marine protected area (MPA) in the Bahamas. The plight of this previously abundant and well-protected conch population is a troubling blow for this iconic marine mollusc.

“Besides being a staple to the local diet, harvesting and sale of conch supports entire island economies,” the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), a non-profit organization that manages the country’s national parks, said in a statement. Conch meat is an important part of the Bahamian economy; domestic consumption is difficult to quantify but exports alone bring in an estimated $3.3 million a year.

Not only are conchs economically and culturally important, but they also play a vital role in the marine ecosystem. Conch eggs and larvae, produced in the hundreds of thousands, are an important food source for a number of vulnerable and endangered marine creatures. Conchs also feed on the algae found on sea grass, preventing the sea grass from being smothered.

Surveys conducted by Community Conch in fishing areas have revealed that queen conch populations in the Bahamas are near collapse.

…Time may be running out for the conchs of the Bahamas.

Read more at Monga Bay.

The Monga Bay article draws heavily on findings in a recently published (and freely available online) research paper: “Efficacy of an established marine protected area at sustaining a queen conch Lobatus gigas population during three decades of monitoring” [pdf].


[Image credit: Dave Wilson]

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