By Ashley Akerberg
Earth Day Celebrations were marked by the launch of The Bahamas National Conchservation Campaign whose ultimate goal is a sustainable queen conch (Strombus gigas) fishery in The Bahamas. The Bahamas National Trust, with support of conservation partners One Eleuthera, the Cape Eleuthera Institute, Community Conch, Friends of the Environment and Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation (BREEF), officially launched the campaign throughout The Bahamas over the weekend.
Launch events on Eleuthera took place at the Earth Day Festival & Celebration at Ocean Hole Park in Rock Sound on April 27th. “One Eleuthera is happy to partner with The Bahamas National Trust and the Cape Eleuthera Institute with the launch of Conchservation campaign 2013 on the island of Eleuthera,” said Robyn Curry of the One Eleuthera Foundation. “We will do our part in bringing awareness to the need of ‘ensuring that our resources are protected for future generations.’ I believe this can only be achieved through consistent and persistent education of our children and adults on the importance of “best practices” when collecting conch or any of our marine resources. We want to join the fisherman in their effort to ensure that we have conch 30 years from now.”
Organizers focused on conch education during the event. Researchers from the Cape Eleuthera Institute set up a booth with informational posters and demonstrations. Event attendants learned about different conch size and lip thickness factors which correlate to sexual maturation and reproduction. They displayed various sized conch with thinner and thicker lips, instructing participants how to correctly measure lip size.
“Do you watch when they crack your conch?” asked Aaron Shultz, Director of CEI, to a group of local youth at the event as they practiced measuring conch lips with calipers, a tool for measuring thickness. He went on to explain that harvesting of juvenile conch means that individuals have not yet had the opportunity to reproduce. In order to reach the goal of a sustainable queen conch fishery in The Bahamas, juvenile conch must be protected well into sexual maturity, indicated by a fully formed flared lip that is at least 15 mm thick.
CEI began conducting surveys of queen conch in South Eleuthera in 2003. In the last ten years, data has suggested a very high prevalence of the harvest of juvenile conch along with significant declines in the total number of conch, with only nine percent of surveyed areas hosting enough mature conch to support reproduction. Claire Thomas, Conch Research Manager of CEI stated that “the purpose of this launch is to gain the support of the community for queen conch conservation and educate local communities on the dangers of harvesting juveniles.” She added, “in the future, our partners in this campaign will work together to continue to hold outreach events aimed at educating the public, and eventually discuss potential management options to ensure that conch will be around in The Bahamas for future generations.”