Archaeologists don’t know exactly how many Tainos survived enslavement, massacres and disease in the centuries that followed — although genetic sampling has revealed significant indigenous lineages in contemporary Puerto Rico. But Taino stories and artifacts underscore the importance of conch: in their fishing and diving traditions; in their endless piles of conch, harvested, eaten, and ground into tools and jewelry; and in their little spirits Three dots are carved into the object – the original inspiration was the spire of a conch shell.
The evidence of conch overfishing dates back to their time, Keegan said. But the export pressure that led to the collapse can be traced back to the British Empire, which gave queens their English names. Queen Victoria was only 18 when she took the throne in 1837, and she loved coral pink shells. (The conch shells that live on the ocean floor are not bright pink, but are obscured by black algal fluff.) She makes brooches and memorial keepsakes from her cameo cutter; they help spark a frenzy of demand. Before the end of the century, British scientists have warned that the mollusk monarch is being overfished.
The Bahamian Fisheries Commissioner to Great Britain, Sir Augustus J. Adley, wrote in 1883: “The profit in conversion into reliefs and other works of art is enormous.” My impression is that this fish is not as plentiful as it used to be Yes, and its protection is desirable. He wanted to suggest a closed season to avoid catching queens, “but I’m afraid that’s not practical.” “
Since then, political utility has eclipsed science. At the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois, biologist Andrew Kough helped quantify the “continuous depletion” of the export-heavy Bahamian queen conch, and the study identified actions that could save them. These include a wider network of no-take reserves, harvest restrictions based on shell thickness, and an eventual export ban. Bahamian government officials have vowed to support each measure. But in a country with about 10,000 artisanal conch fishers, regulation is difficult. Without it, Kuf and other scientists say the Bahamas would follow the Florida Keys and lose their fishery entirely.
Science might be able to breed healthy conch shells and send them back to sea, Kauf said. But there’s no evidence that releasing cultured larvae replicates the epic larval journey seen in the wild. With billions of larvae drifting for kilometers in ocean currents, the scale of natural reproduction “far exceeds anything we can do in aquaculture,” he said. Likewise, conch populations cannot be rescued if they fall below the minimum threshold for reproduction, a number directly related to fishing pressure.
Davis agrees that hatcheries alone cannot save queens. But she believes aquaculture can relieve some of the stress on wild conch — and its role in building a spirit of conservation is very important. The Naguabo hatchery includes an outdoor touch pool where schoolchildren and visitors can pick up a queen bee and perhaps catch a glimpse of its long feet or tentacled eyes. A Bahamian team is now equipping a mobile hatchery on Exuma based on Naguabo’s design, run by local fishermen and community members using a similar model. “Regulation is really the only other way — it’s up to the country, the management in place and the national parks and marine protected areas,” Davis said. “But to see fishermen bring back a lot of eggs and then to see those healthy conch go bad in 21 to 28 days feels like a huge achievement.”