Writing Sample: Queen Conch

Text and Photos Copyright Matt Claiborne, 2018.

Queen Conch (Strombus gigas)

No animal epitomizes these islands more than the Queen Conch (pronounced “konk”). These large sea snails are so embedded in island life that they appear on the national coat of arms and all coins and bills. Walking around settlements and beaches, you will see shells everywhere. Piles will be littered around fish cleaning tables, where conchers punch the upper shell to remove the animal to make cracked conch. In less populated areas and in deeper water, you will likely see these unusual creatures pulling their heavy shells around with their large operculum or pointed foot.

Conch eggs only take three days to hatch, and the female can lay up to half a million eggs at a time. As with many ocean species, only a tiny fraction of these eggs will make it to adulthood. Conch begin life as free-swimming larvae with no shell and are known as “veligers.” After two months, conch sink to the bottom and begin metamorphosis. While the shell grows, the conch buries itself in the sand for protection and become nocturnal. As the animal grows, its shell grows along with it, making a progressively larger spiral as the conch grows larger. At about three years of age, the animal has reached full size and the lip on the shell forms. They reach sexual maturity at about six years of age.

Unfortunately, years of poor fisheries management have caught up to the islands and Queen Conch fisheries are beginning to collapse. Export and bag limits have been set in the Bahamas, and in the Turks and Caicos, it is illegal to take conch (or even export their shells). In the Bahamas, it is illegal to collect a conch that does not possess a fully formed lip.

Conch fritters, cracked conch, conch chowder, conch salad,  Bahamians know how to prepare conch in a variety of tasty ways. Poorly prepared conch can be very chewy, but freshly made and properly tenderized meat is an island specialty. And one last interesting tidbit: did you know that conch can make valuable pearls? They range in color from white and tan to orange or pink!

For more information on the Queen Conch and conservation efforts, visit https://bnt.bs/science/conchservation/