For generations the queen conch has been part of the Caribbean culture and an important fisheries species. However, over the years, the fishing rates are putting these marine gastropod under a lot of pressure and livelihoods at risk. Through a variety of different projects, we are working towards restoring queen conch.
FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and Puerto Rico's Conservación ConCiencia in collaboration with the Naguabo Commercial Fishing Association are building a Queen Conch Hatchery & Nursery to be operated by the fishers in Puerto Rico for the purpose of restoration.
This hatchery will be open to community members and visitors to learn about the queen conch and will be a model hatchery for other Caribbean countries. This project is funded by Saltonstall-Kennedy NOAA Fisheries. (Davis and Espinoza. In Press. GCFI Proceedings)
FAU Harbor Branch in partnership with The Exuma Foundation, Bahamas National Trust and Bahamas Department of Marine Resources reestablished an adult queen conch population in Moriah Harbour Cay National Park MPA in 2019. These conch were stocked in an overfished area of the Park to increase egg mass production and to protect the breeding population. As a keystone herbivore, the queen conch help improve the seagrass environment through grazing and attract an array of fauna such as turtles, rays, and fish. (Issac et al. In Press. GCFI Proceedings)
Another recent FAU Harbor Branch project in The Bahamas was the development and operation of a Queen Conch Hatchery for restoration purposes in partnership with Hummingbird Cay Foundation (2016, 2017).
Investigations on the length of the conch larval stage included growing the larvae in situ in a mesocosm. Growth was faster than in a laboratory setting. Funded by Caribbean Marine Research Center (Davis, Hodgkins, Stoner. 1996. MEPS, Davis. 1998. FIT Dissertation).
Queen conch need a trophic cue for settlement. An array of macroalgae, epiphytes and sediment cues were tested (Davis and Stoner. 1994. JEMBE).
Early juvenile predation was studied using micropredators such as worms and crabs. Funded by Caribbean Marine Research Center (Ray-Culp, Davis, Stoner. 1997. JSR, Ray-Culp, Davis, Stoner. 1999. JEMBE).
Queen conch restoration field studies were conducted comparing survival and growth of hatchery-reared conch with wild conch. Overall predation was higher on hatchery-reared conch. Funded by Caribbean Marine Research Center (Stoner and Davis. 1994. Fisheries Bulletin US).
The Florida and West Indian fighting conch readily lay eggs in captivity and can be cultured for the seafood and aquarium trade. FAU Harbor Branch developed large scale culture techniques for these conch. The fighting and queen conch have similar characteristics in terms of biology, development, taste and meat appearance. Harbor Branch is working on developing a business model to determine if fighting conch can be a potential species to supplement the queen conch food market if it can be grown in sufficient quantity. (Davis and Cantillo Villa. 2019. World Aquaculture Magazine, Davis and Shawl. 2005. GCFI Proceedings, Shawl et al. 2005. GCFI Proceedings)
Predator-prey relations between queen conch and spiny lobsters were studied. Predation type varied according to conch and lobster size. (Davis. 1999. GCFI Proceedings, Davis. 1992. FIT Thesis)
FAU Harbor Branch researchers were the first to breed queen conch in captivity. These conch laid viable egg masses and offspring were reared to juvenile stages. (Shawl and Davis. 2004. JSR)
Acclimating or conditioning conch in an enclosure prior to release in the wild will improve survival of the hatchery-reared conch. The conch will "learn" to bury to assist in avoiding predation and they will "learn" to graze on natural foods. (Spring. 2008. FIT Dissertation)
This video highlights predator-prey interactions between juvenile spiny lobsters and juvenile hatchery-reared queen conch. Lobsters use three different methods to consume conch (crush, peel, or chip) and the method depends on the size of the lobster and the conch. Shells of conch with a size of 5 – 7 cm (2 – 3 inches) shell length, in most cases, escaped predation by lobsters. Produced in 1992 by Megan Davis as part of her Master's degree.
FAU Harbor Branch in collaboration with Blue Dream Ltd, Secretaria de Agricultura y Pesca de Colombia, CORALINA and the fishers established two ranching cages in Saint Catalina within a no-take zone of the SEAFLOWER Biosphere Reserve. The cages were stocked with juvenile conch and the fishers from Old Providence monitored the conch's growth and maintained the cages for 7-months. The conch were then released in deep water to reestablish a breeding population. Funding for this 2006-2007 project was from Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund and SheilaJohnson Brutsch Charitable Trust. (Shawl et al. 2007. GCFI Proceedings)
Megan Davis was co-founder of the Caicos Conch Farm in 1984 and was instrumental in developing the commercial techniques to raise millions of larvae and small juveniles from the egg stage. The Conch Farm located on Providenciales was in operation from 1984 - 2015 and sold many conch for consumption throughout the island and also shipped conch to Florida for the aquarium trade. The techniques developed over the years by Megan and others at the Conch Farm continue to be applied to the other FAU Harbor Branch conch projects. (numerous papers - see Megan Davis Google Scholar)
The first hatchery Megan experimented with growing queen conch was in 1981 on Pine Cay with the Foundation for PRIDE.
In nature, one conch pearl is found out of every 10,000 conch. In 2006, FAU Harbor Branch scientists, Hector Acosta Salmon and Megan Davis, were the first to reliably produce and patent the culture of queen conch pearls. Scientists had been trying for 25 year; Harbor Branch succeeded in 6 months. Conch cultured pearls are produced from a renewable resource because the conch are not sacrificed during the process and 100% of the conch survive the culturing pearl process. Each conch can produce multiple pearls. (Acosta Salmon and Davis. 2007. Aquaculture)