Several scientists and marine experts addressed the conch crisis facing The Bahamas and the region during the Caribbean Gulf & Fisheries Institute (GCFI) 76th conference, hosted by the Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources. Conch is a beloved mollusk – a delicacy used in native dishes, arts and crafts, and in building. But overfishing in The Bahamas and countries throughout the region have negatively impacted conch populations. Marine scientists have been working to save the conch – and some of the projects underway were shared during the GCFI conference, November 6-10, 2023 at the Atlantis Resort.
Community Conch, a community-based mobile mobile conch hatchery, is underway in Moriah Harbour Cay National Park, Exuma. There, Catherine Booker and her team are engaging the community in the process, educating people on the importance of the hatchery in boosting conch populations, which will eventually bode well for conch fishermen and other businesses on the island. This is extremely important, Booker noted, because Exuma fishermen have reported that they have to go out further and further offshore to find conch.
The first phase of this project was to build out the conch hatchery. Marine experts at Florida Atlantic University travelled to Exuma to assist in its implementation and provide advice on its operation. From the start, Booker said, the goal was to involve the community and show them how the project is underway for their benefit.
Community Conch then received approval to erect the hatchery on the dock in Rolleville. The next step was to find conch eggs. With the help of local fishers, Booker and her team sourced eggs from an area in the Exuma National Park. These eggs were placed in incubation larval and metamorphosis tanks. Flow through systems provided natural food and nutrients for the conch. The system was designed to be as off grid as possible.
Community Conch hired a science officer, Christian Moree, to help operate the hatchery. The team interacts with visitors to help them learn and understand aquaculture. The next step for the group is an education campaign involving local schools. In addition, the extremely warm water temperatures and other challenges are being addressed in order to ensure the success of the project, For more information, visit www.conchcommunity.org.
Dr. Krista Sherman of the Perry Institute shared updates on an ongoing conch research project in the East End, Grand Bahama area. Preserving and augmenting populations are important. Dr. Sherman pointed out that for conch to reproduce, a minimum of 50 adult conchs must be in a particular area. In addition, climate, hormones, and environment are important for the female conch to be interested in reproducing.
Perry Institute’s project started before the advent of Hurricane Dorian. At the time, the team had surveyed 23 sites in the East Grand Bahama National Park. Set back but not discouraged by that devastating hurricane, Dr. Sherman and her team regrouped and resurveyed 11 of those sites and altogether, researched 24 sites in 2021. Satellite imagery was used to determine the location of the conch populations. Physical assessments were also made in the water.
Juvenile conch populations in the area totalled 9,500 animals per hectare. Adults were found at about 1,000 per hectare. After the passage of Hurricane Dorian, scientists found that much of the juvenile conch had moved from the area, but the adult conch population remained relatively unchanged. For more information, visit www.perryinstitute.org.
Local fisherman Godwin Butler noted that the survival of the adult conch population after the storm may have had to do with their unique ability to hunker down and bury themselves in the sand in order to withstand the storm surge.