So, what happens when the weather keeps us from getting out there and counting conch? Usually its data entry, catching up on email, lab work, checking the weather forecast, more data entry, checking the forecast again…mostly we’re behind the computer, but sometimes we get a little creative. Chris and Dunte arrived In Sandy Point just in time for the effects of a tropical storm, so they had lots of time to hone their acting skills and shoot an outreach video about one of the most interesting things they learned in their volunteer training…how to estimate the age of a conch. They also wanted to make sure they got out an important message. Take a look and share with people who might be interested!
Brandon Jennings recently graduated from C.V. Bethel High School, where he participated in their highly regarded marine science magnet program. He spent the last year as a Bahamas Environment Steward Scholar (BESS Scholar) attending the Island School and completing an internship with the Bahamas National Trust. For a 17 year old, Brandon has a lot of field experience and it shows! On late notice, he joined our project in Abaco and played a critical role in getting surveys done on the fishing grounds of More’s Island. Despite the remote location and sometimes challenging weather conditions, he averaged 11 tows per day! Definitely tow master standards. Brandon says he’s always wanted to study queen conch because he learned when he was younger that their populations have been decreasing. He was ready when the opportunity to help us came up and made a huge contribution to our effort. Thanks Brandon!
When Community Conch visits a a location to conduct surveys, we also set a high priority on meeting with the people who are in touch with the resource on a daily basis. These folks might be fishers, fisheries officers, restaurant owners, other scientists, and local conservationists. By connecting with them, we get a better idea of things like fishing pressure, market trends, conch population trends, important fishing areas, and of course, all of the concerns and opinions that these stakeholders are willing to share. Our work in the Bight of Abaco was centered around two settlements, Sandy Point and More’s Island, which are both are very reliant on their lobster and conch fisheries. A high percentage of the men in these communities are fishermen, and so it was our goal to hear directly from them. We also wanted to make sure they knew what we were up to on their fishing grounds! Here’s a picture of the public meeting in Sandy Point, and a few that illustrate the fishing lifestyle of the two settlements.
Catherine talking with fishermen in Sandy Point about estimating the age of a conch and reproductive maturity.
Fishing skiffs in Sandy Point. photo by C. Booker
Larger fishing boats in More's Island. photo by M. Davis
A conch shell pile or midden on the shoreline of More's Island. photo by M. Davis
…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?
A Queen Conch flares its shell lip at 3-4 years, but it may take 6 years to reach sexual maturity.