Turks and Caicos: Consider the Conch
One day during our Turks and Caicos vacation, we decided to take a kayak tour of the mangroves near Leeward Marina. We opted for a group tour with a guide from Big Blue Unlimited instead of taking the kayaks out ourselves so we could learn more about the area.
Our guide took us across the channel, crossing the paths of several yachts, and reminded us not to touch the Mangroves if possible. He explained how they suck up the water and desalinate it, turning the ocean salt water brackish. Their roots are a safe haven for adolescent marine life: sharks, fish, jellyfish, turtles. The next island over is Little Water Cay, aka Iguana Island, an aptly named iguana sanctuary. Scientists travel there periodically to track the population and kayakers like us are free to venture ashore to observe the reptilian rulers of this little island.
Around the corner from the lovely marina and the iguana sanctuary is the world’s first self-sustaining conch farm, Caicos Conch Farm.
This farm harvests about 2 million conch a year and 100% of those are shipped to restaurants in the United States (the largest market). They do not sell locally in order to not compete with local harvesters. This farm helps helps meet the demands from restaurants in the United States, lessening the environmental stress from over-harvesting in other areas. Additionally, this farm provides 4 million conch a year to seed the Caicos banks with baby conch to help increase the endangered population.
The marina we are floating in was dredged in order to make the channel deep enough for larger yachts.
“Now the owner wants to do it again,” our guide told us. “If that happens, this water will be murky for years. Those mangroves will die and the conch farm will be wiped out.”
Ever since arriving on the island of Providenciales, the largest in the country of Turks and Caicos, I saw signs posted everywhere in protest of dolphins in captivity. “Beautiful by nature” is the country’s slogan. A beautiful country indeed, and full of nature. But there is not as much propaganda in support of the less cuddly, less cute, faceless conchs.
“The conch is on our flag. We’ll have to take it off if we’re not careful,” the guide continued.
Conchs are important to the ecosystem of Turks and Caicos because they help stabilize sand that might smother reefs without them, they contribute to the health of sea grasses which in turn provide shelter and food for marine animals, and they contribute to overall biodiversity.
If the Leeward Marina is dredged again, the entire ecosystem of Providenciales could be interrupted. Where kayakers and paddle boarders can now venture into the mangroves and see turtles and sharks swim beneath their feet, they will only see murky water.