The queen conch, Lobatus gigas, is found throughout the coast of Belize, and is the second highest economic earner after lobster. In 2014 more than 700,000 pounds of conch meat fetched more than US $4.4 million. Conch are protected under the Fisheries Regulations in Belize by the following requirements:
Not only is the meat valuable, but fishermen have been finding conch pearls, which can fetch more than US$10,000 if the pearl is large and has exceptional "flame." Flame is the term used to describe the iridescent pattern in the pearl. They can be as large as your thumbnail, but many are odd shaped and odd color that are not as valuable.
The conch shell is also of value. A single conch shell can sell for US $5, while artisans craft pendants, earrings, key chains and napkin holders from the shell with a value between US $5- $50 per piece.
While the most common gastropod is the queen conch, other shells are also encountered along the reef and in seagrass beds. The second most common gastropod is the milk conch, which is a miniature version of the pink queen conch and it's luster is white instead of pink. Horse conch is the local name for the West Indian Chank, which features a large body whirl. Fighting conchs are the smallest of all and their aperture is lined in fire orange by the mantle. There are areas inside the Belize Barrier Reef where fighting conchs are abundant over sandy areas, but individuals are occasionally found scattered among the seagrass beds. The queen and king helmet shells are also sought after for sale in the shell trade, but they are more important in the sea where they contribute to mixing of sediments.
The queen conch's scientific name had been Strombus gigas for more than 200 years but the taxonomy was recently revised. Strombus stems from the Latin and Greek meaning "spiral" and gigas means "big" or big spiral. Lobatus is Latin for divided into lobes. Certainly the "Big Spiral" describes it well!
The Belt Transect Method will be deployed to survey conch over seagrass beds. The data collectors lays a tape, weighted on one end, in a straight line perpendicular to the reef crest. The collector gathers all conchs within a two (2) meter width, or a meter on both sides of the belt, for a distance of 30m at each site. Conchs encountered are placed inside a boat or measured at the site. In shallow areas where data collectors can stand conchs will be measured at the site and in deeper waters conch will be transferred to the boat for measurement. The data recorder measures the shell length and the lip thickness. The conchs are then reintroduced to the water after the survey. This is repeated six times per site for three sites at the different zones within the area.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
If residing or visiting Belize you can help conserve conchs and other molluscs by following these recommendations:
DONT order conch out of season
DONT purchase shells that have been harvested soley for their sale, as they play important role in the sea.
DO purchase conch crafts made by artisans.
DO participate in conch surveys that monitor important conch nurseries