MIAMI (AP) The queen of the sea, a monster mollusk that inspired its own republic in Florida but now is as likely to be found in a frying pan or a gift shop as the ocean floor, is in trouble.
A marine preserve in the Bahamas famed for its abundance of queen conchs and intended to help keep the country's population thriving is missing something: young conchs. Researchers studying the no-take park off Exuma, one of hundreds throughout the Caribbean, found that over the last two decades, the number of young has sharply declined as adult conchs steadily matured and died off. The population hasn't crashed yet like it has in the Florida Keys, but in the last five years, the number of adult conchs in one of the Bahamas' healthiest populations dropped by 71 percent.
For the slow-moving slugs that gather by the hundreds to mate, scientists fear a new, unexpected threat may now doom the park's population: old age.
The discovery also raises questions about the effectiveness of marine preserves, long viewed as a solution to reviving over-fished stocks. If one of the Caribbean's oldest and best marine preserves isn't working to replenish one of its biggest exports now regulated as tightly as lobster what does that mean for other preserves and how they're managed?
"We can see (the preserve) works for grouper and sharks," said Andrew Kough, lead author of a study published earlier this month and a larval expert at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. "But for a lot of the animals you don't consider as much, for example conch that are tied to a complex life cycle of larval dispersal, it's not working."
To find out why, Kough and a team of researchers set sail this month from Miami aboard a Shedd research boat imagine the Belafonte minus the mini sub in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou." For 12 days, they'll dive the deep channels surrounding the park in search of young conchs to count and measure. They'll also take DNA samples to determine where the conchs are coming from. If they can trace the path of the young conchs, the hope is they can find a better way to protect them and manage the fishery.
"The babies are either not coming in in high enough numbers to replenish the adults or there's something else going on in the park that's an unintended consequence," Kough said. "There's so many sharks and rays inside the park they could just be chowing down on baby conchs."
In the Florida Keys, the ghost of the conch looms large: in oversized highway replicas, T-shirts, and horns. When he took the throne as king of the Conch Republic, treasure hunter Mel Fisher carried a scepter crowned with a queen conch. But in the Caribbean, conch remains a vital part of the economy, and the reason its governments are so concerned.
Conchs used to be prevalent in Florida, too. But decades of overfishing nearly wiped them out. In the mid-1980s the U.S. banned their harvest to save what was left. Yet more than three decades later, they still have not recovered in Florida waters, an inauspicious sign for the Caribbean.
Across the Caribbean, conchs are as good as currency. Almost anyone who can swim can grab one from the ocean floor and sell it or serve it. Cracked conch or conch salad appears on almost every menu. Their pink-lipped shells line porches and walkways. Countless docks are littered with piles of discarded shells. They are used for everything from jewelry to bait. Whole industries, from fishermen to exporters, depend on a healthy population.
But regulating them as been uneven. While some islands impose seasons and limits on takes in the Turks and Caicos conch season starts in October and there are set limits on numbers and size other have not. Populations have plummeted in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Honduras, prompting the U.S. to ban their imports.
The Bahamas has taken an aggressive approach. In 2013, the government launched a "Conchservation" campaign to save what it considers a national treasure that once gathered in vast herds along miles of flats and seagrass meadows.
In recent years, Kough said those herds have thinned considerably, driving populations down. In the Berry Islands, he said, previous surveys found the sea bottom littered with conchs, which can live up to 40 years and not only hold an important place in the food chain but graze on algae that can kill seagrass. The last time his team visited, Kough said, they found hardly any big adults.
"The fishermen are going further to get the animals," he said. "We found a lot of sub adults and juveniles as well, but it's the adults that are in decline and that just screams fishing."
Scientists believe a healthy population needs between 50 and 100 adults conchs for every 2.5 acres to sustain itself. The patchier the clusters, the harder it is for populations to find each other and connect.
Working with the Bahamian government, Kough hopes to better understand how the conchs are circulating or more precisely the baby conchs. About five days after female conchs release their eggs in long sandy strands, larvae emerge and get caught up in currents. Because the larval stage can last up to a month, the babies can float more than 100 miles. Kough suspects the young conchs from the preserve are winding up in unprotected areas hammered by harvesting.
Although the Bahamas restricts fishing, Kough said tighter measures may be needed. Regulations currently allow the take of any conch with a flared lip, the smooth curve on its rosy shell, which for years has been considered the indication of a mature conch. Scientists now believe the thickness of the shell is a better measure of maturity, triggering a local move to change rules to require shells be at least as thick as a Bahamian penny.
"You don't want to pull up juveniles. You want animals to reproduce," Kough said.
Kough is hoping the team can find some answers by studying currents to map the ocean highways traveled by conch larvae.
"It's a lot more complex because the animals are spending so much time out in the open ocean and outside the boundaries because they're dispersing as larvae," he said. "You can't create a huge ocean open park. Well you could, but how would you enforce that?"
The international community has vowed to protect 30 percent of the world's coastlines by 2030 to keep fisheries sustainable. But, Kough said, the Bahamas is in the difficult position of having within its borders vast flats and shallows not considered shoreline that should be protected but could exhaust limited resources.
"They recognize there's a problem. That's the really important thing," he said. "So they want to take steps to fix it before it turns into something like Florida, where the population just crashed and still hasn't recovered."
Information from: The Miami Herald, http://www.herald.com
Continue reading here:
- Bahamas PM Assesses Isaias Damage on US Coast Guard Aircraft - US Embassy in The Bahamas - August 3rd, 2020
- Montage To Open Luxury Resort On Private Island In Bahamas - Forbes - August 3rd, 2020
- Hurricane Isaias to impact Bahamas today and the US this weekend - CNN - August 3rd, 2020
- A New Private Island Resort Is Coming to the Bahamas - TravelPulse - August 3rd, 2020
- New tropical threat for Caribbean and Bahamas, heat wave continues for East Coast - ABC News - August 3rd, 2020
- Everything you need to know if you have plans to travel to the Bahamas - MSN Money - August 3rd, 2020
- A COMIC'S VIEW: Stupid is as stupid does in The Bahamas - Bahamas Tribune - August 3rd, 2020
- Grand Bahama residents in 20 communities advised to evacuate - Bahamas Tribune - August 3rd, 2020
- Traveling to The Bahamas: What You Need to Know - Caribbean Journal - July 21st, 2020
- Bahamas to Ban International Travel Amid COVID Concerns - Voice of America - July 21st, 2020
- US Navy Destroyer Rescues Yacht Off the Coast of the Bahamas - The Maritime Executive - July 21st, 2020
- From The Bahamas to Turks and Caicos, 7 Private Islands You Can Visit - Caribbean Journal - July 21st, 2020
- Secret royal living in the Bahamas EXPOSED - New Idea - July 21st, 2020
- 'Renovation Island': Here's How Much It Costs to Stay at the Baeumler Family's Luxury Bahamas Beach Resort - Showbiz Cheat Sheet - July 21st, 2020
- What to know before heading to the Bahamas - Boston Herald - July 15th, 2020
- Government of The Bahamas - Ministry of Health Testing Protocol for Incoming Visitors - PRNewswire - July 15th, 2020
- Defense Force increases presence in southern Bahamas - EyeWitness News - July 15th, 2020
- Top 10 Islands in the Caribbean and the Bahamas - KCTV Kansas City - July 15th, 2020
- Bahamas urged to re-examine 'citizen investors' - Bahamas Tribune - July 15th, 2020
- Time to stop this unjust destruction of Bahamas family life - Bahamas Tribune - July 15th, 2020
- Two new COVID-19 cases in Grand Bahama - EyeWitness News - July 15th, 2020
- Wife of The Bahamas Prime Minister Supports Sewing Classes in Over-the-Hill Community - Magnetic Media - July 15th, 2020
- Bahamas latest island to require negative COVID test for entry - Travelweek - July 15th, 2020
- Three new cases of COVID-19 on Grand Bahama - Bahamas Tribune - July 15th, 2020
- Art Dealer Inigo Philbrick Will Be Kept In US Custody After His Fiances Familys Bahamas Real Estate Was Rejected as Bail Collateral - artnet News - July 15th, 2020
- Police probe reports that officers shot several dogs - Bahamas Tribune - July 15th, 2020
- UK heatwave map: Scorching Atlantic plume to bake Britain hotter than Bahamas - Express.co.uk - July 15th, 2020
- Trudeau's past ethics transgressions hurt the Liberals. Will it happen again? - CBC.ca - July 15th, 2020
- 47th Independence Celebration, A Display of Innovation and Creativity - The Eleutheran - July 15th, 2020
- About 70 animals rescued from Bahamas, brought to Indian River County - TCPalm - June 17th, 2020
- Bahamas Ministry of Tourism & Aviation Prepares For Phase 1 Reopening June 15 - PRNewswire - June 17th, 2020
- Unraveling The Mysterious Death of Sir Harry Oakes in the Bahamas - dujour.com - June 17th, 2020
- Op-Ed: It's better in The Bahamas - EyeWitness News - June 17th, 2020
- Jamaica and Bahamas officially reopen for tourists, nationals Here's what to expect - Face2Face Africa - June 17th, 2020
- Bahamas Oil and Gas Market Outlook to 2023-Strategic Analysis, Insights, Forecasts and Opportunities in Bahamas - Cole of Duty - June 17th, 2020
- No negative test, no entry: Doctors weigh in on reopening Phase 2 - EyeWitness News - June 17th, 2020
- Atlantis to start phased reopening July 7 EyeWitness News - EyeWitness News - June 17th, 2020
- Johnson: Missed WTO targets not the focus - EyeWitness News - June 17th, 2020
- INSIGHT: It's only a matter of time before we pay the price for our shameful silence - Bahamas Tribune - June 17th, 2020
- All the Caribbean countries that are currently open for tourism - Time Out - June 17th, 2020
- EDITORIAL: Leave no island behind - Bahamas Tribune - June 17th, 2020
- 'Meals on Wheels' programme rolls on with bank's support - EyeWitness News - June 17th, 2020
- Bahamas becomes the jurisdiction of wealthy Forex brokers - Forex News Now - June 17th, 2020
- People seem to kill at the drop of a hat - Bahamas Tribune - June 17th, 2020
- Govt. looking to mandate the use of masks in public spaces - EyeWitness News - June 17th, 2020
- RBC unveils second phase of COVID-19 relief - EyeWitness News - June 17th, 2020
- BUT: Some teachers return to school what now? - EyeWitness News - June 17th, 2020
- Bahamas Announces Borders Reopening to Travelers on July 1 - TravelPulse - June 1st, 2020
- Breaking: SC of The Bahamas to Implement Massive Regulatory Changes - Finance Magnates - June 1st, 2020
- Where I played: The Abaco Club is Bahamas golf (and living) at its best - Golf.com - June 1st, 2020
- Joy Jibrilu: From Working with Lenny Kravitz to Virtual Visits, the Creative Ways the Bahamas Director of Tourism is Keeping the Region Top of Mind... - June 1st, 2020
- Sailing vloggers defend isolation in Bahamian waters - EyeWitness News - June 1st, 2020
- BPC sets new date for oil exploration in The Bahamas - EyeWitness News - June 1st, 2020
- PHASE 3: Churches, gaming houses, and some island beaches open - EyeWitness News - June 1st, 2020
- Bahamas Petroleum Company highlights strong financial position as it awaits Perseverance exploration well - Proactive Investors UK - June 1st, 2020
- RBDF probing reports of couple isolating on uninhabited island - EyeWitness News - June 1st, 2020
- Small Cap Movers: Bahamas Petroleum rockets after scheduling start of exploration well - Proactive Investors UK - June 1st, 2020
- MOFA marks anniversary of Turin deaths, investigations still ongoing - EyeWitness News - June 1st, 2020
- Government to appeal historic Bahamian court ruling on citizenship - NYCaribNews - May 29th, 2020
- Severe weather warning for Central and Northwest Bahamas - EyeWitness News - May 29th, 2020
- Caribbean community organizations call for decisive action to end homophobic abuse and cyberbullying - UNAIDS - May 29th, 2020
- Commodore: Border patrol strategies expected to cont. to deter illegal landings - EyeWitness News - May 29th, 2020
- Battered Caribbean prepares for hurricanes amid pandemic - The Republic - May 29th, 2020
- Fiscal deficit projected to climb to $1.3 billion EyeWitness News - EyeWitness News - May 29th, 2020
- U.S. will not repatriate citizens still in The Bahamas - EyeWitness News - April 11th, 2020
- Cutler is waiting out the outbreak in The Bahamas - NBCSports.com - April 11th, 2020
- First Coast couple locked down in their boat home in the Bahamas - FirstCoastNews.com WTLV-WJXX - April 11th, 2020
- Spring break during the coronavirus pandemic: 'It's the opposite of the Bahamas' - Reading Eagle - April 11th, 2020
- Govt gives cash to help Bahamians stuck in US - Bahamas Tribune - April 11th, 2020
- Bahamas credit bureau still a work in progress - EyeWitness News - April 11th, 2020
- Bahamas Embassy informs seized medical supplies released with help from US Embassy - Magnetic Media - April 11th, 2020
- Niki & Gabi Are Taking Over the Bahamas in New AwesomenessTV Series - Celeb Secrets - April 11th, 2020
- 100000 Students in The Bahamas served with virtual Education; Minister's remarks - Magnetic Media - April 11th, 2020
- Another case, another death for The Bahamas on Thursday, reports Health Minister - Magnetic Media - April 11th, 2020
- Corrections commiss. satisfied with COVID-19 protocols to safeguard inmates and officers - EyeWitness News - April 11th, 2020
- US citizens urged to leave now - EyeWitness News - March 31st, 2020
- Carmelo Anthony: LeBron James saved my life during trip to Bahamas - syracuse.com - March 31st, 2020
- Caribbean Moment: A Perfect Sandbar in The Bahamas - Caribbean Journal - March 31st, 2020
- Luxury bunkers and private islands how the rich are self-isolating from the coronavirus - CNBC - March 31st, 2020
- New case of COVID-19 in Grand Bahama - Bahamas Tribune - March 31st, 2020