By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The Deputy Prime Minister yesterday called on Bahamians to capitalise on the true value of conch shell raw material and generate more revenue for the country.
K P Turnquest, speaking at a signing ceremony for a grant from the Inter-American Development Bank/Japanese Poverty Fund that will fund the Bahamas National Trust's $500,000 'Conchservation' project, said he hoped it would lead to more research on conch by-products.
"I know that in Grand Bahama there is an active export programme with the conch shell, where they are collecting the conch shells and exporting them to China," he said.
The conch builds its own shell out of calcium carbonate, which it gets from the ocean, and calcium carbonate is the most widely-used mineral in the paper, plastics, paints and coatings industries as a filler and coating pigment. Calcium carbonate is also widely used as a dietary calcium supplement, antacid, phosphate binder or base material for medicinal tablets.
Mr Turnquest said: "We do have a problem with disposing of the conch shell, and so this is an opportunity to get some return for this by-product. I hope that we will be able to help Bahamians identify the true potential of this product, and how we can move from the raw material stage to some kind of final product stage, where we know that the value-added is.
"I am hopeful that through the BNT or through the small business development centre we are setting up, or some other private sector source, that we will be able to engage in doing the research and the testing to determine how we can turn this natural by-product into a source of revenue for the country."
Shelly Cant-Woodside, the BNT's director of science and policy, said: "This is a species that is in serious jeopardy. It is in serious decline, and this is predominately due to overfishing and made worse by the fact that habitats are being destroyed as well.
"More and more juvenile conch are being harvested, and this is making it more and more unsustainable over time. We are currently in the middle of a fishery collapse."
The BNT had been approached by the IDB to submit a proposal to the Japan Special Fund Poverty Reduction Programme (JPO). The JPO's $500,000 grant will fund the project 'Community Based Conch Management in the Family Islands'.
The three-years project, which is comprised of three components, will be implemented in the east and west end of Grand Bahama, said Ms Cant-Woodside. The objectives are to increase and diversify sources of income for conch fishers and their communities through value-added conch products and alternative livelihoods; generate local benefits from a community-based marine protected area; and improve community access to sustainable conch markets.