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Helping to Sustain a Way of Life in the Bahamas

New report and publication available for download!

We now have two new and interesting documents to share with you! Community Conch wrapped up reporting on our fifth conch survey season in the Jumento Cays and Ragged Islands, and we’ve added another publication of significant fishery management value. Click here to download the docs.

The first is the final report on the survey work we completed last summer in Jumento Cays and Ragged Islands. Given that we did find considerably healthier populations of conch in these southern Bahamian islands, it makes for a more uplifting read that our previous reports. Though we are glad to see the numbers are higher in these hard to fish areas, we still offers some precautionary management recommendations.

We have also recently had a paper published in the Journal of Shellfish Research on a study conducted by Dr. Stoner and our colleague Karl Mueller. Data was collected during the Exuma Cays expedition in 2011 to study the relationship between operculum dimensions and shell lip thickness. As we all know by now (right?!), lip thickness is an indicator of the age of a conch and the sexual maturity of the animal. As it turns out, checking the operculum might also be a good indicator too. The significance of this study lies in its potential usefulness to fishery managers. A major issue with enforcement of current fishery laws is the fact that most shells are discarded at sea and therefore the shells are never seen at landing docks. So, its impossible to tell whether the conch had a flared lip, much less what the lip thickness of the shell was. If fishers were required to land cleaned conchs with the operculum in tact, fishery officers would have an alternative way to determine if the animal was indeed legally harvested. Plus, fishers would not have to weigh their boats down with heavy shells which has been noted by some as a real hazard at sea. Now, quick! Find out what an operculum is!

 

 

 

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!

Meet the R/Js team

By Catherine | 1 August 2013 | No Comments
Published in Ragged Island/Jumento Cays 2013, Uncategorized

In addition to the usual Community Conch team, we were joined by four volunteers this year. And we really couldn’t have chosen a better crew, because these folks were truly up for the challenge. In this post we’ll feature Erin Cash, a native of Nassau. Erin was great to have on board because not only was her master’s thesis focus on the queen conch (experience!), having just finished her thesis she was not afraid of data entry (bonus skill!), and was all around a fun person to have around (people person!). Despite a few bouts of sea sickness, Erin was also really excited to be towed behind a boat (or maybe not so much, but she did it anyway!). And she really loves conch, as you will see in her post…

Erin was especially skilled in measuring the length and lip thickness of conch shells in the smelly old conch middens we came across.

Erin was especially skilled in measuring the length and lip thickness of conch shells in the smelly old conch middens we came across.

When the opportunity was first presented to me to help on the conch project I couldn’t be more excited. As a recent graduate whose thesis revolved around this hopping strombid, I leapt at the chance to work with it again. After two and a half weeks, a couple of peaceful run-ins with a few toothy friends and a new perspective on the necessity of sunblock, I felt that all hope was not lost; though I am “missing” a couple of unwanted pounds.
Every day that we went out something new was waiting to be discovered. Some information was scientifically minded- like the densities we found- and some of it was on the human level. When you’re at sea for weeks at a time it can get a little lonely. You worry that you may run out of conversations. I remember warning another volunteer in the airport about catching up too quickly; I was worried we’d run out of things to say. However, we were able to interact with new people who were old to the area at almost every stop. Learning their perspectives and at times having a dialog as to what can and should be done about environmental issues. As the resident city slicker, being from Nassau, I was able to learn new things about my own country that I never would have known. Evidently there is at least one flamingo in the Jumentos!

Erin smiling about the number of conch she just counted on her tow.

Erin smiling about the number of conch she just counted on her tow.

The best thing I learned was that it was not all for naught. While we have a way to go it was refreshing to see relatively healthy populations. It was enlightening to survey middens that weren’t pervaded with the shells of juveniles. It was humbling to see the beauty my country presents both with its self-contained cays and staggering painted sea. It was a little dicey being pulled on a tow rope behind a boat in some of those seas, but hey- we do it for science. We do it for the conch. We do it because really, who else will? We have to see. We have to learn. We have to have that information. We have to move forward. I did it because I had to. I’m glad that I did. I’m still thrown about that flamingo though…

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Erin works on getting the data into a spreadsheet…she did it for the conch.

Ragged Island and Jumento Cays surveys – check!

By Catherine | 23 July 2013 | 1 Comment
Published in Ragged Island/Jumento Cays 2013, Uncategorized

This year’s conch surveys took us to a remote location in the southern Bahamas, the Ragged Island and Jumento Cays (R/Js) chain. Ragged Island, just 60+ miles from Cuba lies at the southern end of the chain and is inhabited by a small, resourceful Bahamian community known as Duncan Town. The rest of the islands, cays, and rocks in this long archipelago, which stretch north in an arc over 100 miles long, are only home to the abundant wildlife above and below the sea.

The Ragged Island and Jumento Cays chain in the southern Bahamas. Water Cay is the largest cay closest to Long Island and Little Exuma. Ragged Island is just 60 miles from the northeastern shore of Cuba.

The Ragged Island and Jumento Cays chain in the southern Bahamas. Water Cay is the largest cay closest to Long Island and Little Exuma. Ragged Island is just 60 miles from the northeastern shore of Cuba.

 

Our initial goal for survey of the R/Js, was to survey both the extensive shallow bank on the western side of the islands, and also try to get a good idea of what conch populations looked like in the deeper water on the eastern side of the chain. It’s always good to have a plan, but we’ve learned to be flexible when it comes to the weather. After only two days of surveys, we decided it was too windy, and therefore too rough to continue exploring the deeper shelf side. Instead, we focused on the very productive banks. It was sharky out there too! 

 

A view of narrow Water Cay from the top. We started surveys of the deeper waters (right side of the island), but ended up with more extensive surveys of the shallows (left side of the island).

A view of narrow Water Cay from the top. We started surveys of the deeper waters (right side of the island), but ended up with more extensive surveys of the shallows (left side of the island).

 

All of the information we got from the Department of Marine Resources and fishermen indicated that most of the conchs were found in the shallower waters, so we felt sure we were going to find some. As we worked our way down the islands from Water Cay, staying a night or two in the few protected anchorages we could find, we were amazed at the numbers we were seeing. It was not unusual for us to count 100+ conch on a single transect tow, which translates into high densities and healthy reproductive populations.

 

Jessica Minns brings 3 conch to the boat to be measured after a tow. Getting shell length and lip thickness measurements help us to determine the age structure of a conch population.

Jessica Minns brings 3 conch to the boat to be measured after a tow. Getting shell length and lip thickness measurements help us to determine the age structure of a conch population.

 

We had a great crew of volunteers this year. They were so capable and so brave to do the hard work that needed to be done in this remote location. Getting in and out of the water all day, every day, trying to avoid the barracudas and sharks, bouncing along in a small boat in rough conditions, and free-diving sometimes up to 40 feet to retrieve conchs for measuring…all for conchservation! At the end, everyone appreciated what the life of a fisherman must be like; except for the part where you get to sell your catch! More mini-reports coming soon!

Our 2013 crew (back row, left to right): Erin Cash, Martha Davis, Marc Vandenrydt, Allan Stoner, Montana Steell, Justin Lewis (front row, left to right) Jessica Minns, Catherine Booker

Our 2013 crew (back row, left to right): Erin Cash, Martha Davis, Marc Vandenrydt, Allan Stoner, Montana Steell, Justin Lewis (front row, left to right) Jessica Minns, Catherine Booker

 

 

DID YOU KNOW?

deep water conch

The Queen Conch lives an average of 7 years, but may live over 30 years in the deep waters of protected habitats.

MORE FACTS >>