The importance of conch in the Bahamas and Exuma cannot be overstated. Conch is ingrained deeply in the local culture. From conch festivals to conch-cracking competitions, the love is real. So much love in fact, that the Queen conch is even on the Bahamian coat of arms.
Unfortunately, research finds that the queen conch is slowly dying out.
Conch In Exuma
Exuma has a close connection to conch and this data. Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is a marine protected area, but even though the conch here are well protected their still in danger. Exuma also has multiple restaurants famous for conch dishes and has a booming conch diving tour industry.
Causes of Decline
Wondering just how important conch is to The Bahamas? Well, conch meat plans an important part of the Bahamian economy with the country exporting close to $3.3 million a year. That’s not even including domestic consumption or the use of conch shells.
This ever-increasing demand has led to overfishing, a major cause for the conch decline.
Part of the problem also lies in conch’s mating and life cycle. While Exuma Cay Land and Sea Park has a very large adult conch population, there are very few juveniles, meaning once the current generation dies, there isn’t any left to breed and repopulate.
While the park is protected, conch egg and larvae travel more freely through the waters. Natural predators and fishing mean that these young conchs never make it to protected waters to continue growing and repopulating and the ones produced in the park can easily leave the protected zone.
Locals should be worried. Scientists have clearly stated that the queen conch population in the Bahamas “is near collapse”.
Once a conch fishery collapse it’s difficult to recover. Especially since it takes close to 30 years for conch to reach sexual maturity and begin to repopulate.
Without conch, the Bahamas would take a huge economic blow. Not only does the country heavily export it, domestic sales are also high, and conch diving and meals are a huge draw for tourists.
As is often the case, the fate of the Bahamas queen conch population will ultimately depend on the action, or inaction, or the local government.