By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
OFFICIALS from the Bahamas National Trust and several corporate partners have launched a national campaign geared towards sustaining the country’s severely declining Queen Conch populations.
The “Conchservation” campaign connects the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) with a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private groups and commercial companies, all focused on stopping the decline of Queen Conch stocks.
Studies comparing populations today and 20 years ago in the same location show up to a 90 per cent decline. Recent surveys of Bahamian conch fishing grounds indicate that conch populations are threatened by overfishing.
BNT Chairman, Eric Carey, said the declining conch numbers in the region are the result of the harvesting of conch species not yet given the chance to reproduce. He insisted that this oversight by fishermen and consumers are due to a lack of education.
“Most people eat conch on a day-to-day basis,” Mr Carey said yesterday. “Conch is at every school fair, church fair and there are thousands of conch shacks around the country. Harvesting juvenile, no-lip conch means thousands of new conchs will never be born.”
Mr Carey explained that the goal of the campaign is to develop sustainable fisheries for the queen conch species. As a part of that, the ultimate aim is to ensure that Bahamians never have to face the reality of life without the conch.
“Without conch every Bahamian is going to be impacted, every Bahamian is going to be concerned,” he said.
The Sandals Foundation was the first corporate partner of the BNT’s Conchservation campaign, and has remained its biggest financial donor over the years.
The partnership between the two entities has produced two public service advertisements, the latest of which was released yesterday as a part of the campaign announcement.
Sandals’ Public Relations Manager, Chester Robards, said the resort is “elated” to partner with the Trust in their effort to educate the wider public on the importance on conserving the conch species.
Mr Robards indicated that the campaign “was an easy fit”, insisting that the mandate of the campaign aligned with the mandate of the Sandals Foundation.
“At the Sandals Foundation environment is one of our pillars, along with education and community. The partnership with the Trust goes a long way in fulfilling all three pillars.
“The platform used to educate our kids on the conch conservation has a wide environmental base, our communities would be better for it once conch is protected and persons know the reasons for the protection.”
Mr Robards explained conch plays a major role in the Bahamian economy. He said conch is a viable and important feature of the country’s fisheries’ industry and tourism product.
“We understand that conch is something that we can not lose,” he said. “It‘s a huge driver of the Bahamian economy and it must be sustained to benefit the entire country.”
Key to the agreement between the Sandals Foundation and the BNT was the principle that there be a educational aspect directed at children.
To fulfil that, the BNT executives approached Wendy’s with a proposal to feature an educational booklet with all of the company’s kid’s meal packages.
Marketing Assistant at Wendy’s, Vashti Simmions, said the opportunity to get on board with the BNT and educate young Bahamians on the importance of conch conservation was important to the fast food chain.
“A lot of kids come in for the nuggets and fries so this becomes a great way to push the conservation effort to kids in a fun way. Education is a big part of what we do at Wendy’s,” she said.
The Conchservation campaign seeks to bring together researchers, government agencies, non-governmental agencies, concerned private entities and – most importantly – the Bahamian public.
Conch generates millions of dollars for local economies and, as a result, stocks are scarce due to overfishing. In some countries the Queen Conch has already been listed as “commercially extinct”.
Recent research suggests that unless the lip is 15 millimetres thick, the conch is probably still a juvenile. Current regulations in the Bahamas allow for conch to be harvested year-round; however, the harvested conch must possess a well-formed, flared lip.
It takes up to six years for a conch to go from egg to larvae to juvenile to sexually mature adults.