The conch. Such a fascinating gastropod, and with so many uses both culinary and decorative. In certain cultures, religiously significant. A rudimentary musical instrument for a shell. And did I mention delicious?
Live conchs enjoy motoring around uninhibitedly on the sea floor, keeping an eye out…
Conchs also enjoy racing each other…
“Eat my dust…”
Conch Pearl – one of the rarest natural pearls in the world
A conch spiral close-up
Conch shells just lie around the place at Sandy Point
Conchs are widely used for serving cocktails or as ashtrays in the best beach bars*
*This is a lie. Sorry about that. I meant to say “make prefect table decorations”
Conchs are gastropods. They are food. They are decoration (anyway, the shells are). For some, they are a living. And on Abaco they are everywhere – alive in the waters, and as shells scattered on beaches or piled up outside restaurants. So the quest for conch is an easy one. There are fears of overfishing, however, and an active organisation The Bahamas National Conchservation Campaignexists to protect them. Another similar Bahamas organisation isCommunity Conch.We found a nice half-buried conch shell at Sandy Point. It was full of sand grains and tiny shells – mini gastropods and bivalves – that took some time to wash out of the spiralling internal structure. Here are some studies of the shell. The damage to the shell above is the place where it has been bashed in to enable removal of the occupant. In order to do so, it is necessary to break the strong vacuum that would prevent extraction if you tried by the conventional route. Effectively the conch anchors itself to its shell and must be cut out. The best way to make the hole is with the spiral tip of another conch. This breaks the suction and enables you to prise out the occupant…
Finally, you can usually rely on me to go off-piste. So here is a video of how to make a conch horn to annoy your friends and neighbours with…
I have been idly filing away some stunning close-up reef denizen images by Melinda Riger. A Monday morning is the perfect time to showcase some pouts, poses and glad eyes from the ‘catfish walk’, starting with my absolute favourite…
A COWFISH** PERFECTS THE POUT
A GREEN MORAY EEL SMILES STRAIGHT TO CAMERA
THE QUEEN ANGELFISH ‘LOVES’ THE LENS
A GROUPER DOES THE ‘OPEN-MOUTH’ GAPE
THIS SCHOOLMASTER SNAPPER MAY NOT HAVE GOT QUITE WHAT IT TAKES
NICE EYES, BUT THE PETITE SAND-DIVER NEEDS TO BE A LITTLE MORE OUTGOING
AS DOES THE SOUTHERN STINGRAY
HOWEVER THE PEACOCK FLOUNDER IS ROCKING THE MAKE-UP BOX
THE OCTOPUS IS MOODY & WON’T GET OUT OF BED FOR LESS THAN 20 MOLLUSCS
AND REGRETTABLY THE POOR CONCH HAS A BAD STAGE FRIGHT
For more octopus information and a discussion of the correct plural (choice of 3)CLICKHERE
For a post about underwater species camouflageCLICKHERE
**Since I posted this earlier today, I have been asked (re photo 1) what the… the… heck a Cowfish looks like, when it’s not puckering up while facing you. The answer is: stunningly glamorous…
Thanks as ever to Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba for use permission for her fab photos; tip of the dorsal fin to Wiki for the shark eye header pic
Most conchs encountered in daily life are lying peacefully on the beach; or are artfully displayed; or are found in conch heaps (often in the vicinity of restaurants) like the ones below at Sandy Point.
These shells at Sandy Point are so plentiful that they form a small spit of ‘land’ into the sea
An attractive display of conch shells in Marsh Harbour
A less formal arrangement along the jetty at Man o’ War Cay (after a storm)
It’s easy to forget that these shells are more than just a garden adornment, or pretty containers for a ubiquitous Caribbean food. Under the sea, and not very far at that, are living creatures going about their daily lives.
And that includes reproducing. This sounds as if it might be a cumbersome process, but (like porcupines) they seem to manage. Here is a pair preparing to mate. The male behind is presumably about to… well never mind. I’ve never seen the process, so it’s a case of using imagination. Or just accepting that, whatever it is that they do, it works. [I haven’t located a video online – I’ll post one if I do]
You’ll find some more about Conchs in a previous post HERE, including 12 Unputdownable Conch Facts, notes on conservation matters and… a photo of Honeychile Rider, arguably the most famous conch-carrier ever. Oh, she was fictional, you say? But I always though she… How verydisappointing.
And if you want to know how to clean a conch, a dude will show you in a video on this pageHERE
Finally, check out the very informative websiteCOMMUNITY CONCH, a charitable conservation organisation
SHORE THINGS: BEACHCOMBING ON A PRISTINE ABACO BEACH
The Abaco bay known as Rolling Harbour is a 3/4 mile curve of white sand beach, protected by an off-shore reef. The beach is pristine. Or it would be but for two factors. One is the seaweed that arrives when the wind is from the east – natural and biodegradable detritus. It provides food and camouflage for many species of shorebird – plover and sandpipers of all varieties from large to least. The second – far less easily dealt with – is the inevitable plastic junk washed up on every tide. This has to be collected up and ‘binned’, a never-ending cycle of plastic trash disposal. Except for the ATLAS V SPACE-ROCKET FAIRING found on the beach, that came from the Mars ‘Curiosity’ launch.
We kept is as a… curiosity, until it was eventually removed by the men in black…
I’d intended to have a ‘plastic beach trash’, Atlantic-gyre-rage rant, with angry / sad photos to match. Instead, I decided to illustrate a more positive side to beach life – things you may discover when you take a closer look at the sand under your feet. Like the coconut above. Many of these photos were taken by our friend Clare Latimer (to whom thanks for use permission); some by me.
A LONE FLOWERSEA STAR (DEFUNCT), WITH CRAB TRACKSSEA FAN (GORGONIAN)WASHED-UP BOTTLE (PROBABLY NOT RUM)
Thanks to Capt Rick Guest, who has contributed an interesting comment regarding the sea biscuit with a hole in it. He writes“the (Meoma) Sea Biscuit w/ the hole in it was dined upon by a Helmet Conch. The Cassis madagascariensis, or C.tuberosa drills the hole w/ its conveyer-belt-like radula teeth w/ some help from its acidic, saliva. Probably 98% of all symetrical holes in marine invertebrates are of this nature. Murex, Naticas, Helmets, and many Cephalapods (via a Stylet), are the usual B&E suspects. The Cone shells utilize a modified radula in the form of a harpoon which is attached to a venom tube.” For more on the vicious cone shell, and other creatures to avoid, click HERE
DRIFTWOOD. IT’S LIKE… OH, USE YOUR IMAGINATIONA WILSON’S PLOVER NESTHORSESHOE CRAB (LIMULUS)A SCULPTURE? AN EMBRYONIC SHELTER? LARGE BIRD FOOTPRINTSMORE BIRD PRINTS AND CRAB TRACKSCRABUS CUTICUSCONCH SHELLS & OTHER BEACH TREASURESCRAB HOLE & TRACKSSOME IDIOT’S LEFT HIS… OH! IT’S MINE
Conchs are among the most familiar of all shells. On Abaco they are everywhere: in the sea, on the beach, used ornamentally in gardens, piled up wherever conch is on the menu… (basically, anywhere serving food)
Conchs have other uses besides being a staple food. They provide sought-after pink pearls. Only about 1 conch in 10,000 has a pearl, so bear in mind that if you miss one during your search, you may have another 10,000 to wade through… Conchs can produce music, of a sort (such as when used enthusiastically by the famous ‘conch-blower’ home-team supporter during cricket Test Matches in the West Indies). They are undeniably decorative on a porch or on a shelf.
Conchs have featured in literature and film. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies the conch represents power and order. A conch is blown to call meetings of the marooned boys. Its power is symbolised by the rule that you have to be holding it to speak at the meeting (an idea that many – all? – Parliaments could benefit from…)
Ian Fleming mentions conchs in several of the Bond books, all such references being totally eclipsed by the memory of the appearance, in the film Dr No, of Honeychile Rider emerging from the sea, conch in hand. Oh, I see. That’s just men is it? Or (good grief) just me? Anyway, may we all agree amicably that Ursula Andress was a most decorative conch carrier?
The supply of conchs is not infinite. Overfish them, take them before maturity or pollute their habitat and this valuable marine resource depletes – and conchs, as with so many marine species, will become threatened. Fortunately there is a Bahamas-wide conservation organisation with a website packed with interest.
COMMUNITY CONCH is “a nonprofit organization that aims to protect queen conchs in the Bahamas, a species of mollusk threatened by aggressive over-fishing. We promote sustainable harvest of queen conch through research, education and community-based conservation”
“Helping to sustain a way of life in the Bahamas”
Much of the research has been carried out in Berry Is, Andros and Exuma Cays. However the team has recently been based at Sandy point, Abaco. To see some of their work on AbacoCLICK LINK===>>ABACO EXPEDITION
In many past posts I have listed ’10 Essential Facts’ about the topic discussed. In that spirit I have borrowed and slightly edited CC’s conch facts; and added a CC video of a conch’s stately ‘full speed ahead’ progress. NB No zoom…
12 CONCH FACTS
The queen conch is a large edible sea snail native to the coasts of the Caribbean, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Conchs are herbivores – they eat algae and other tiny marine plants
Main predators include nurse sharks, loggerhead turtles, other snail species, blue crabs, eagle rays, spiny lobsters, and other crustaceans
Mating aggregations may contain hundreds or even thousands of individual male and female conchs
Female conchs lay hundreds of thousands of tiny eggs in a sandy egg mass. The larvae emerge after 5 days and may drift on ocean currents for a month before settling in suitable habitat on the sea floor
In their first year conchs live under the sand during the day & come out to feed on the surface at night
A queen conch may take 5 years to reach maturity and can reproduce
They live an average of 7 years, but are known to live as long as 20 – 30 years
Conchs produce natural pearls that come in a range of hues, including white, brown, orange & pink
The conch is listed byCITESas a species which may become threatened with extinction if trade is not tightly controlled
It is now illegal to take queen conchs in the state of Florida due to severe overfishing
80% of legal internationally traded conch is consumed in the United States. The smuggling of conch meat into the U.S. is a significant challenge to conch management in The Bahamas
Queen conch are vulnerable to overfishing because they are (1) relatively slow to grow (2) late to mature (3) aggregate to mate (4) easily harvested in shallow waters
A SPEEDY CONCH
(Conch photos taken by RH / Mrs RH at Sandy Point, Abaco)
The serious conch action in Sandy Point is to be found at the jetty. I learned a simple beginner’s lesson on our first visit to Abaco. If you choose a large gorgeous-hued conch from the huge pile in the 4th photo to take back home, it will quickly start to smell dodgy, followed by evil… until you clean it properly!
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