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Helping to Sustain a Way of Life in the Bahamas

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is not traditionally celebrated in The Bahamas, but we thought it would be a good opportunity to say thank you once again to all of the volunteers who help us out each summer. Enjoy this photo collage of volunteers that joined us in the Berry Islands, Andros, Exuma, Abaco, and down south in the Jumento Cays and Ragged Island. We could not possibly have counted and measured all of those conchs without you! Thank you!

Our first crowdsourcing fundraiser!

By Catherine | 13 February 2013 | No Comments
Published in Outreach

We’re really excited about our upcoming citizen science project, My Science, My Conch, and are working hard to get the funding we need to make it happen. MSMC really focuses on the community aspect of our work and conch conservation, so we thought it be fun to see what kind of support is out there in the community! Our Crowdrise fundraiser will allow you to donate directly to this project through our fiscal sponsor, Rachel’s Network. You can find out more details about MSMC on our Crowdrise page. It’s super easy, and we appreciate donations large and small. If you’d like to contribute, click here!

my science my conch3

 

The next generation

By Catherine | 16 September 2012 | No Comments
Published in Outreach, Uncategorized

In many schools throughout The Bahamas, teachers and students are starting out this year with a greater knowledge of a beloved marine resource, the queen conch. Thanks to efforts by Bahamian conservation organizations that decided to put special focus on conchs in their summer camps and workshops, the next generation will know more about the biology and ecology of the species, as well as the threats to its survival. Summer camps for kids were held on the islands of New Providence, Andros, Abaco, Grand Bahama, San Salvador, and Eleuthera. On Andros, the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) held a special “Conch-servation” Eco Camp.  The Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF) and Friends of the Environment also held camps that included lessons on conch and marine conservation. Several teacher-training opportunities offered by the BNT and BREEF gave the country’s educators a chance to get hands-on experience and add a few conch-related activities to their classroom repertoire. Community Conch was able to attend several of these workshops to present our research and discuss conch conservation with the teachers. At BREEF’s annual marine conservation teacher training workshop we piloted a citizen-science program that will help raise awareness about the illegal and unsustainable harvest of juvenile conch. The camps, workshops, and citizen-science project are all part of an effort to bring conch conservation to the forefront in The Bahamas.  You’ll be hearing more about an organized campaign in the coming months. In the meantime, check out the pictures below and don’t forget check out our Facebook page for conch news updates.

 

Alannah Vellacott teaches kids how to measure lip thickness of a conch shell at BREEF’s Sea Camp on Eleuthera.

d’Shan Maycock of Friends of the Environment reviews the conch life cycle at their summer camp on Abaco.

Campers present their own conch research at the Bahamas National Trust’s Eco Camp on Andros.

Leaders of the Bahamas National Trust Discovery Club watch a video on conch conservation at their annual workshop.

Bianca Green (BNT), Jackie Chisolm-Lightbourne (College of The Bahamas), and Casuarina McKinney Lambert (BREEF) talk conch anatomy at the BREEF marine conservation teacher training workshop.

Teachers participate in the pilot of a citizen-science project designed to raise awareness about the illegal and unsustainable harvest of juvenile conch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New video – watch and learn how to estimate the age of a conch!

By Catherine | 12 July 2012 | No Comments
Published in Abaco Expedition 2012, Outreach, Uncategorized, Videos

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!

Connecting with the community

By Catherine | 3 July 2012 | No Comments
Published in Abaco Expedition 2012, Outreach, Uncategorized

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

Serve it now, serve it later

By Catherine | 16 April 2012 | No Comments
Published in Outreach, Uncategorized

Bahamians have lived off the sea for a long time, so they take their fish (and fishing) very seriously. The queen conch, Strombus gigas, is one of those targeted species, and you can find it on just about any menu in many different recipes. Cracked conch, conch chowder, conch salad, conch burger, scorched conch, conch and grits, you name it! People of all nationalities and walks of life love it. In The Bahamas its a cultural icon and dietary mainstay. So, its hard to imagine a Bahamian restaurant that doesn’t serve conch, but soon they might not have a choice. Conch is getting harder and harder to find. Overfishing is taking its toll.

Big D is the owner of two restaurants on the island of Exuma, Big D’s Conch Spot and Big D’s Sand Bar and Grill. His menu is full of fresh seafood choices and conch dishes. His businesses are among the most successful on the island, but Big D has a problem. He’s worried about the conch. He’s concerned that when we wants to buy fresh conch, fishermen have fewer mature conch, and more immature conch to sell to him. He knows this is not a good sign, and as a fisherman himself, he knows what it means. Conch are getting scarce and something needs to be done. He’s willing to do it. Big D only buys mature conch (those that have had a chance to reproduce) and by doing so, he’s using his influence in the supply chain to make a change. He’s also committed to education of any and everyone who will listen including customers, fishermen, and fellow restaurant owners. Its not a problem he can solve by himself, but he knows he must make a choice if he wants to make sure he can serve conch now and in the future. Community Conch is looking forward to assisting Big D in his efforts. He is a leader in his country and in the Caribbean.

Our director Martha Davis and Big D with a few mature conch at Big D's Sand Bar and Grill.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, chefs and restaurant managers who are not as closely connected to the source of their seafood products are also making a choice. Their mission: Only buy and serve sustainably caught seafood, and educate customers about the benefits of consuming only sustainably caught seafood. Whole industries are following suit, with certifications that encourage responsible harvest of marine resources including the lobster fishery in The Bahamas. For more information about the sustainable seafood movement check out these links:
Marine Stewardship Council

Good Catch

Seafood Choices Alliance

Monterey Bay Aquarium

And remember, next time you order seafood, keep sustainability in mind and vote with your dollar!

Coming soon…a new cohort of conch counters!

By Catherine | 21 March 2012 | No Comments
Published in Outreach, Uncategorized

After a great visit in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park last summer, and with conch on the priority list, the Island School invited us over to Cape Eleuthera to help them get a queen conch monitoring program started! We’re super excited to support this effort, especially since we’ve benefited so much from the great training their students get through the Bahamas Environmental Steward Scholarship (BESS) program offered every semester at the school. Some of our best volunteers have been BESS students (wink Ted, Alannah, and Jaz).

The student research group will soon be heading out into the shallow waters in the backyard of their campus to survey queen conch. First, their fearless research instructors, Steve and Kristal, wanted to make sure the data they will be collecting is comparable to the data Community Conch collects in other areas of The Bahamas. Second, they were glad to get a little towing wisdom…it goes a long way!

The new Island School conch cohort

So into the field we went…The students had a great time floating along in the chilly water learning what a queen conch, milk conch, and king helmet conch look like, how to quickly determine if a conch is alive or just an empty shell, and how to identify a juvenile, sub-adult, and adult. Steve and Kristal also learned the finer points of getting in a good transect tow, and how to measure the lip thickness of a conch shell.

Looking for the queen

Kristal measures the lip thickness of an adult conch

Steve and Kristal collect their first conch for measurement.

The surveys the Island School research group will complete are important, not only for educational purposes, but in a real life context. The area they will cover is an important local fishing ground that supplies the communities of south Eleuthera. What would they do without a steady supply of conch?! Geographically, it’s also a very interesting area because of the orientation to Exuma Sound and possible connectivity to other conch populations in this system.

So, good luck Steve, Kristal and the conch research team! You’re on your way to making a difference!

What is a conch wave?

By Catherine | 17 February 2012 | No Comments
Published in Outreach, Uncategorized

original post on FaceBook and photo by Linda Besk

Hi Everyone,

We just heard about the conch wave that was observed near Staniel Cay and thought we’d throw in our scientist’s two-cents. Allan Stoner’s conch research group was the first to describe this mass migration phenomenon near Lee Stocking Island in 1988. He acknowledges that this unusual sight is something the fishermen have probably known about for a very long time. Dr. Stoner and his team observed 25 conch waves over a 6 year period in late 80’s – early 90’s. Short of asking the conch participating in the march, they tried just about everything to figure out what was going on!

So, we thought we’d share what they did learn…

  • High density migrations of juvenile conch (lots and lots of young conch all stacked up on top of each other) are sometimes called conch waves or conch walls and can occur throughout the year, but occur predominately October – April. These aggregations can last for months.
  • The conch waves are made up of juvenile conch aged 1 year and older (the teenagers), but did include a few younger adults here and there. The biggest aggregations had over 100,000 individuals.
  • Conch waves occured on what are considered to be nursery grounds or shallow water areas less than 5 meters (15 feet).
  • The direction of the migration seemed to be strongly determined by the direction of ebb or flood tide.
  • After a conch wave passes through an area, there was significantly less algae on the seabed. The conch were clearly eating the algae, but they were not eating seagrass.
  • Most importantly, and the likely reason for these mass migrations, is that individual juveniles within the conch wave had a much lower probability of being eaten by a predator. So, like fish that school together to avoid predation, the young conch may be looking for safety in numbers.

As an update, Dr. Stoner said that even though the team was in the field regularly after studying the conch waves, sadly they did not see much after their last observations in 1992. Our recent work in the Exuma Cays found that conch nurseries in the same area have declined by at least one half.

The conch wave is still one of nature’s mysteries. We’re glad to hear they are still being observed in places, but are definitely concerned that this phenomenon is becoming more and more rare. If you see a conch wave, please think about the future of conch in The Bahamas and let them grow up to reproduce.

 

New paper and a documentary on the way!

By Catherine | 13 February 2012 | 1 Comment
Published in Outreach, Uncategorized

In January, the Bulletin of Marine Science published Community Conch’s first contribution to the literature on queen conch. We’ve written reports, technical briefs, and policy briefs for the Bahamian government. Now we’re reaching the larger scientific community. Read our paper on the effects of fishing pressure on conch reproduction on the front page of the BMS online journal or here.

Last week we had Conch Salad TV down to Exuma to film a short documentary on conch fishing. Thanks for the hard work Matt, Lindsey, and Noah! Here’s a sneak peek at our cast!

Little Dewan is ready to educate!

Big D talks about his dedication to a sustainable fishery, while make a tasty conch salad.

Students from LN Coakley High School measure conch lip thickness for the camera.

DID YOU KNOW?

conch pearls

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

MORE FACTS >>