A new study has confirmed that marine protected areas (MPAs), such as Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, can help save the declining queen conch population in the Bahamas. The study was published by Chicago-based Shedd Aquarium, and confirmed what many already believed.
Shedd Aquarium was behind the same group that discovered the Bahamas’ queen conch population was in serious danger in October 2018. Back then they stated that queen conch could potentially be wiped out in 10-15 years without drastic measures taken.
The new study sheds a more hopeful light though. In the press release it stated, “After a 2018 review of queen conch populations in the Bahamas indicated rapid declines, a new research study brings hope for how to save the imperiled marine snail’s future. The study…shows that conch within a well-enforced marine protected area (MPA), an area where fishing is banned, reproduced and replenished populations of queen conch within fishing grounds. The results highlight the importance of MPAs beyond their borders, and the study suggests where to expand a network of protected areas within the Bahamas to benefit queen conch populations across the island nation.”
This is great news for not only the environment, but the Bahamian people as well. Queen conch is an important part of the culture, especially the food. It also plays a role in tourism, with conch diving and conch dishes being a major attraction.
Lead author and research biologist, Dr. Andy Kough states the research “unequivocally demonstrated that conch protected within a no-take park replenished nearby populations as they reproduced and their babies, called veliger larvae, spilled over into non-protected areas. If some areas where adults are abundant enough to breed are protected, they can help ensure a healthy environment and thriving fishery with conch for years to come.”
In order to confirm these findings, the team studied both adults and larvae using scuba surveys. They collected information on age, size, and abundance of adult conch. Then they used a computer program to estimate where larvae are dispersed.
One of the main study areas for the research was the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. There were three key research findings within: there are three times as many adult conch within the MPA; effective MPA enforced by local officials resulted in older and bigger conch; and larvae that originated in the MPA settled in unprotected areas outside the borders. This includes fished sites with densities currently too low for reproduction.
While this study provides hope for the Bahamian queen conch, the species is still in danger. Overfishing and poaching of conch remains and issue. More needs to be done to protect the current population if we hope to retain it.