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!
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.
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!