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Helping to Sustain a Way of Life in the Bahamas

Enthusiastic volunteers…where would we be without them?!

By Catherine | 17 July 2014 | No Comments
Published in Little Bahama Bank 2014

Each year we’ve done conch surveys in The Bahamas, we’ve been quite fortunate to have people volunteer their time and resources to help make the expedition happen. What we do in the field to collect data is inherently somewhat fun (or we think it is), but there are also some seriously challenging conditions that we work in. Thunderstorms come to mind.  Even on the calmest most beautiful days, after a number of days in the water, the task of towing transects can become a bit repetitive and tedious. So, we are always extremely glad and grateful to have folks join the effort that are so committed to the task and are willing to push their limits a little to get the job done.

This year we had a fantastic group and we would like to recognize them for their contributions to helping to create a sustainable conch fishery in The Bahamas. We had students in various stages of their academic career along with scientists from the Smithsonian and Friends of the Environment join us. Each found time in their schedules to be a part of the trip, even if it meant missing the big graduation party (Eboni!) and literally leaving for a camping trip the afternoon they returned from being out at sea (Kerwin!)

Delphine Carroll, Eleuthera, high school graduate

Eboni Adderly, Nassau, high school graduate

Kerwin Mullings, Nassau, high school graduate

Tarran Simms, Nassau, Dolphin Cay trainer, veteran conchologist, pre-grad school

Peter Graham, Nassau, Bahamas National Trust intern, college student

James Boyce, Marsh Harbour, FRIENDS volunteer, college student

AJ Moss, Marsh Harbour, FRIENDS volunteer

Olivia Patterson, Marsh Harbour, FRIENDS Program Coordinator

Nathan Truelove, Florida, Smithsonian Institute

Sara Rosewall, Florida, Smithsonian Institute

Check out our Flickr page to see more pictures of the volunteers in action!

The Coral Reef II volunteer crew!

The Coral Reef II volunteer crew!

And here’s how a conch survey looks from the perspective of some super-enthusiastic volunteers! Thanks guys! It really was a pleasure working with you too! (Notice the common fear of being towed that our volunteers overcome, just to count conch!)


 

delphine

Delphine!

Having the opportunity to participate in Community Conch’s Conch Survey of the Little Bahama Bank has been an amazing experience for me! It is a memory that will stay with me forever: getting to be out on the boat, meeting a great group of people, magnificent scenery, all of the sea life, and of course the stars of the trip – the conchs themselves! Taking part in the Conch Survey is unlike anything that I have ever done before. We were towed behind the boats, so it made me kind of nervous at first because I felt like a big piece of bait trolling behind the boat. But after the first couple of tows I started to get used to it and felt as if I was part of the ocean and I really enjoyed it! On my tows I got to see dolphins, turtles, barracuda, ocean triggerfish, sea biscuits on the move, sea cucumbers and conchs! I got super excited when i was towed over some of the large conch nurseries, it was good to see so many conchs in an area. 🙂 I learned so much during my time on the Conch Survey. All of the Scientists were so nice and showed us and explained to us what was going on. I learnt how to measure the conch’s lip thickness and shell thickness as well as how to record the data. I learned how the areas that were to be surveyed were gridded out on a map and how to use the GPS on the boat to find the waypoints of the towing areas. I also had the chance to observe and assist in taking DNA samples from the conchs and learned different species of sea cucumbers. I reached a big personal victory while on the trip as well. On the first day of field work, we were free-diving up some conch to take measurements from, but I could not figure out how to equalize. It was pretty frustrating for me. However, I kept on trying each time we came to an area to collect conch and got advice from the others, and soon I was able to equalize and dive up conch with everyone else! It is quite an amazing sensation to be able to dive down in the ocean! I had such a great time, and made some great friends that I had a lot of fun with: surveying conchs, jumping off the boat, hanging out on deck, and going on snorkeling adventures. Living aboard the boat the Coral Reef II was very cool and I really enjoyed it, I slept really well and had delicious food. The whole experience was absolutely amazing! I am so thankful that I was able to participate in Community Conch’s Conch Survey of the Little Bahama Bank!


 

Tarran!

Tarran!

My experience with the Community Conch’s little Bahamas Bank conch survey 2014 was one word EPIC!!! After meeting Catherine in 2011 at the Cape Eleuthera Institute and hearing about wonderful work CC had been doing with conch in The Bahamas, I was more than excited this year when she extended an invitation to join her on CC’s 2014 conch survey. I have a strong love for the ocean, and being at sea for 8 days felt like spending time with the one you love. The survey started off a bit scary jumping off a boat and being dragged through 30 feet of water at the beginning. The only thing that was one my mind during the first day of tows were SHARK!!!!! However I took some advice from Catherine “the tows work just like lightening, if it’s your time…it’s your time”, and from that point on I never felt safer. Thanks Catherine! The Shedd Aquarium research vessel was amazing, besides the food and the hospitable staff; I was amazed at the amount of work that Shedd has been conducting in The Bahamas. There is not one part of the trip I did not enjoy, my highlight is the entire trip. It so important that we get out there in the field and do research in order to protect our marine resources in The Bahamas. Conch plays a vital role in our society from an economic and cultural stand point. However if we don’t protect this organism not only will fishermen lose a vital source of income, our children’s children will never be able to savor an authentic conch salad or get greasy fingers from a delicious conch fitter. I would like to thank Community Conch for allowing me to join them on this life changing conch expedition you have opened my eyes to the importance of field research, in order to bring change. Martha and Catherine you are heroines, not only for the conch but to our local culture. I look forward to working with both of you in the future. Until next time keep up the conchquest, and call on me whenever you need me I’ll be there!!!!

Way out there and back on the Little Bahama Bank!

By Catherine | 5 July 2014 | No Comments
Published in Little Bahama Bank 2014, Uncategorized
LBB route

The route of the Coral Reef II from West End, Grand Bahama to Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco.

This year’s conch survey took us to the most northern latitudes of The Bahamas and some pretty wild places. The northern edge of the Little Bahama Bank is not inhabited. Actually, there isn’t even any land to inhabit, and this is where we got started. The seas were a bit rough and the water was deeper than we anticipated, but we definitely got a sense for the thriving conch populations that still exist in these remote locations. And we met some spotted dolphin friends that brought a little cheer to our first few transects in those unfriendly waters. We could not have done our work in a place like this without the support of the Shedd Aquarium through the use of their research vessel, R/V Coral Reef II and the great crew on board…a special thanks to Captain Lou, Captain Warren, Chef Chris, and cruise director/research assistant, Becky. With no protection from the seas at our first few anchorages, we were at least glad we were in a large boat!

dolphin

One of the many spotted dolphins that greeted us on the Mantanilla Shoal! photo credit: Becky Gericke

Luckily, the weather was great for the trip and we got every area we set out to survey covered. From the Mantanilla Shoal and Reef area where we only saw one other boat over a 48 hour period, we went Southeast to the fishing grounds near Grand Cay, and then a little further south to the Carter Cays area. It was just us and the fishermen out there, and on a couple of occasions this was very lucky for us. Especially the day we had a little engine trouble and needed a tow in. We always make a point to let the fishers know what we’re up to on their turf, and this year we were able to even involve them in the collection of population age structure data…they let us measure their conch, and we gave them the conch we’d already gotten up to the boat after we’d finished taking measurements. Win, win.

win win

Peter and Nate with our new collaborators from Fox Town.

towed in

Getting towed in from a few miles out. We felt very lucky that day!

As we headed further south and east, the number of boats and people in and around the water increased. The density of conch decreased, which is a pattern we’ve certainly noticed in other places. As we approached Marsh Harbour, it became a little scary being towed on a line, as other boats both big and small whizzed passed. Due partly to the great weather and mostly to the great team we had on board (which you’ll hear more about in the next post), we had a little extra time to survey the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park south of Marsh Harbour with the assistance of volunteers from Friends of the Environment. Bonus!

friends

Olivia, James, and AJ from Friends of the Environment in Marsh Harbour with Peter and Martha during our survey of the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park.

DID YOU KNOW?

conch pearls

Conchs produce natural pearls that come in a range of hues, including white, brown, orange and pink.

MORE FACTS >>