Conch Shell Island and Endangered Species

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Richard Branson’s latest blog post highlights the overharvesting of queen conch shells in the Caribbean, a species that may soon be threatened with extinction. As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explains, “Queen conch, with its beautiful pink shell and tasty meat, has become a symbol of the Caribbean region where it is found on beaches, restaurant menus, and in souvenir shops. Be aware, however, that the United States currently prohibits import of queen conch (including meat, shells, live animals, and products made from queen conch) from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago. This action is part of a global conservation effort under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to stem continued and significant declines in queen conch populations.” Branson urges anyone considering taking conch to “think again.” See excerpts here:

[. . .] On first glance the picture above is a beautiful image of kitesurfing off Anegada. However, that’s not an island; it’s a piles of conch shells. These conch have been so overharvested that their very existence is in peril throughout the Caribbean.

Queen conch are fished heavily for their meat and also for their stunning shells to be used as jewellery and keepsakes. These edible marine snails are slow moving, breed late in life and tend to aggregate in shallow water to spawn, so they are easily caught.

Queen conch was listed in Appendix II of CITES in 1992, with the organisation noting that without trade controls the species will be threatened with extinction. The US currently prohibits import of queen conch from many parts of the Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago.

However, conch are still imported from places such as the BVI, Bermuda, Aruba and the Bahamas, resulting in their numbers being hugely reduced.

Conch farms are being trialled in places such as Turks and Caicos and work is being done by the likes of the NOAA to improve queen conch aquaculture. Nevertheless, I would urge anyone considering taking conch to think again.

[Photo above by Owen Buggy.]

For full post, see http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/conch-shell-island

For more on conservation efforts, see http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/invertebrates/queenconch.htm

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