…can only move this fast! Even though a large part of the conch’s body is one big muscle, they don’t exactly flee from predators. When they’re small they bury themselves in the sand to avoid being eaten by animals like rays and lobsters. When they grow bigger, their strategy is to hide inside their thick shell. Unfortunately for the conch, that big shell may make them more visible to their #1 predator, HUMANS. And where there’s one conch, particularly during the summer mating season, there are likely many more in the area because conchs mate in large aggregations. Hundreds or even thousands of individuals might be found in an aggregation, and all they can do when they see YOU coming is retreat into their shell. And well, we’ve gotten pretty good at getting them out of the shell. Check out this “Great Conch Race”on conchsaladtv.com
Welcome Dunte Rolle and Christopher May! As of today, we have two new volunteers here in Sandy Point. Being new to the conch towing business, we put these two recent high school graduates through our “rigorous” training camp as soon as they arrived. Not only do you have to be able to spot conch like these within a transect while getting dragged through the water…
Can you spot the conch?
…you’ve got to learn how to categorize conchs as a juvenile, subadult (roller), or adult, and identify mating behavior and spot egg masses. We also measure the size and lip thickness of quite a few conch shells, so you’ve got to learn how to use the calipers. During our afternoon boot camp, Dr. Stoner showed the guys the ropes and they are ready to go this week!
Dr. Stoner explains the stages of the conch life cycle after collecting a few examples.
Training...three to a tow.
Chris and Dunte measure the thickness of a large conch's flared lip.
Sandy Point is the furthest settlement on the southwestern tip of Great Abaco Island. This quaint fishing community has depended on the Bight of Abaco fishing grounds for generations for both lobster and conch. The conching in this area is legendary and supports year round harvest for both local consumption and export. We’re here to conduct the first stock assessment of conch populations near Sandy Point and Moore’s Island, and to follow up on last year’s study of the relationship between the thickness of the flared lip of the conch shell (an indicator of age) and reproductive maturity.
But before we get in to too many details…we are really glad we’re going to be here in Sandy Point and have already met some of the nicest people in The Bahamas! We’re so grateful for the support we’ve received from the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization, who are putting half of us up in their field station; the Abaco office of the Bahamas National Trust for logistical support and planning; Paul Pinder, a true gentleman, bonefishing guide extraordinaire, and friend of the conch, who is making sure we have a working boat every day; and Jeremy Saunders and Administrator Pinder, for their valuable insight into the conch fishery.
Here are a few pictures from the field…
Our newest volunteer, Brandon Jennings of Nassau getting in his first tows with Paul Pinder at the helm (and Marc!).
The team (except for Marc!) with Mr. Saunders of the Department of Marine Resources, and Mr. Pinder, South Abaco Island Administrator and former fisherman.
A "roller" in the beautiful seagrass habitat of the Bight of Abaco.
In a few days we’ll start our 2012 surveys in the Bight of Abaco. We’ll be arriving at Sandy Point by boat and plane for 2 weeks of conch counting. We’ve got some brand new volunteers this year, all aspiring marine biologists right out of high school. One of our best volunteers ever will be joining us all the way from Oregon. And, we’ve got conch guru, Allan Stoner in the field this year! We’ll be adding new posts about the Abaco Expedition as often as we can, so stay tuned.
DID YOU KNOW?
Conchs lay hundreds of thousands of tiny eggs in a sandy egg mass. The larvae emerge after 5 days and drift on currents for up to a month before settling to the bottom of the ocean.