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Helping to Sustain a Way of Life in the Bahamas

A speedy conch…

By Catherine | 27 June 2012 | No Comments
Published in Abaco Expedition 2012, Uncategorized, Videos

…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

 

 

Training camp…can you spot the conch?!

By Catherine | 25 June 2012 | No Comments
Published in Abaco Expedition 2012, Uncategorized

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.

Conchin’ in Sandy Point

By Catherine | 20 June 2012 | 1 Comment
Published in Abaco Expedition 2012, Uncategorized

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.

Conch even grow on trees in Sandy Point!

Abaco, here we come!

By Catherine | 14 June 2012 | No Comments
Published in Abaco Expedition 2012, Uncategorized

Map of general survey area in 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.

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.

New reports available, publication out soon!

By Catherine | 2 January 2012 | No Comments
Published in Exuma Cays Expedition 2011, Uncategorized

We’ve been busy over the past few months getting reports and two manuscripts finished, the results of a very successful field season in the Exuma Cays. Our findings have already turned heads at the GCFI Conference in Puerto Morelos, Mexico in November. We’ll be attending the Abaco Science Alliance Conferencein Marsh Harbour, Abaco January 5-7 to present to the science and conservation communities of The Bahamas. We’re hoping to get a similar response…this information is so important to conch fishery management! You can download our new reports here. Check the next issue of the Bulletin of Marine Science for our new publication: Stoner AW, Davis MH, Booker CJ (2012) Negative consequences of Allee effect are compounded by fishing pressure: comparison of queen conch in fishing grounds and a marine protected area. Bull Mar Sci 88(1)

Memories of counting conchs…and living rocks?

By Catherine | 19 September 2011 | No Comments
Published in Exuma Cays Expedition 2011, Uncategorized

After a little more time for reflection (and a vacation), we’re posting again! One of our volunteers at Lee Stocking Island, Jamie, was particularly intrigued by the stromatolites found just offshore, so she wrote a little about her experience encountering these ancient life forms while looking for conchs. She also shares a few jokes….here’s her post.

I am writing this blog at the airport leaving the Bahamas, reflecting on my two weeks time spent on Lee Stocking Island at the Perry Institute of Marine Science. For two days I would dive counting queen conch along transects and then tow for a day on sound side of the island. My most memorable tow was through Adderly Cut. I saw an old anchor that was about five feet in length in 20 to 30 feet of water, followed by a sea turtle. To make the tow even better, I was pulled over large formations projecting from the sand, called stromatolites. I would not have known exactly what they were had it not been for a shirt Karl was wearing a day earlier. The shirt featured a picture of these geological formations with a diver entitled “Stromatolite Hunter.”

Karl's retro stromatolite hunter t-shirt from his good old days at LSI.

Stromatolites are such an amazing thing to see because they are the oldest living things on Earth, dating back to over three billion years ago. Made from blue-green algae called cyanobacteria, they produced the oxygen we breathe today. Living forms are extremely rare to find, only found in two regions of the world. On my last day in the Bahamas we went back to the location, so everyone could experience the wonder of stromatolites. Some of us dove the site, while others snorkeled and free dove. I am proud to say that I have seen the oldest living things on Earth. To some they may look like boring, old rocks, but to me they have much more meaning than that. They made homes to many species of fish, including blueheads, redtail parrotfish, bar jacks, and many more. Catherine was lucky enough to photograph a nurse shark roaming about the stromatolites and even some sub-adult queen conch.

Adric explores the stromatolites. photo by C. Booker

 

A nurse shark cruises through the stromatolites. photo by C. Booker

Overall it was a great experience, I just wish I could have been there on the first dive when a hammerhead shark was spotted in 70 feet of water! I would like to thank everyone at Community Conch for this opportunity and wish them the best of luck. I would like to conclude this post with some queen conch jokes we came up with on our down time (just a warning that I am no comedian):

What do you call a young queen conch that spends a lot of money at the casino?

A high roller

What do you call a grouping of conch?

A conchregation

What dance to conch love to dance?

The samba

– Jamie

Jamie finds a little time to laugh at her own jokes after a tow.

* It was a big deal when stromatolites were discovered around LSI because back then, they were only known to exist in Shark Bay Australia. Today, Dr. Pamela Reid, a scientist at the University of Miami continues to study the stromatolites of the Exumas. If you’re interested in learning more, check out her website!

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DID YOU KNOW?

nurse shark

The conch's main predators include rays, other snail species, worms, blue crabs, nurse sharks, spiny lobsters and other crustaceans.

MORE FACTS >>