The Queen Conch, aka the Turks and Caicos conch, has long been a part of the Turks and Caicos culture and cuisine. In fact, it is one of the three symbols on the Turks and Caicos flag. However, Queen Conch has been overfished and is at risk for endangerment. Learn more about this important piece of Turks and Caicos history.
What is the Turks and Caicos Conch
Conch, pronounced “konk”, can be identified by its large, spiral shell with short spines and pink interior. It is a giant marine gastropod that can live to be 25-30 years old. Queen Conch are found throughout the Caribbean sea as well as the Florida Keys, Gulf of Mexico, and around Bermuda. They live in seagrass beds, sand flats, algal beds, and rubble areas.
Turks and Caicos Conch History
The Queen Conch has long been an important food among the island people, and there is evidence of its shell being used for tools and decoration as far back as the first known people to inhabit the islands. It was an easy source of protein and quickly became a staple cuisine. The shells are not only beautiful to look at, but people found you could use it as a horn or trumpet if it was cut a certain way. Conch shells also had industrial uses and were crushed to be used in ceramics or ground and burnt to create cement.
Conch Representation in Turks and Caicos
When you visit Turks and Caicos, you will see conch everywhere you go. There are many popular restaurants that feature conch as a menu item, businesses use conch in their names, and you can buy souvenirs with pictures of conch on them at just about any gift shop. There is even a culinary event called the Conch Festival.
Conch has always been an integral part of Turks and Caicos cuisine. In early days, it was made into conch stew and it became popular to eat conch fritters, conch salad, conch chowder, and cracked conch.
In the 1990s, there were 16 different Caribbean countries that exported conch to the United States. Today, the Turks and Caicos Islands are 1 of only 3 that continue to export. The Caicos Conch Farm was the world’s only conch farm and supplied conch for export as well as local use. However, it has been closed for years due to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, which struck the area in 2017.
The Need to Protect Queen Conch
Since 1992 the CITES multilateral framework, which controls exports and international trade, has been protecting the Queen Conch. However, for many years, the population of conch has continued to see a drastic decrease. Overfishing is likely to blame for the low ocean stocks and has prompted many local Turks and Caicos restaurants to remove conch from their menu to help preserve this beloved sea creature.
How Turks and Caicos Visitors Can Help
Under the CITES regulations, visitors to the Turks and Caicos Islands are only allowed to take three conch shells home without needing to obtain a CITES permit. Visitors are also encouraged to admire conch from afar and wear reef-safe sunscreen to protect the delicate marine ecosystem.
Caicos Dream Tours Has Removed Conch from the Menu
Caicos Dream Tours has a great love and respect for the Turks and Caicos Queen Conch. In fact, a silhouette of its shell is used in the logo. In the past, some of the boat charters available through Caicos Dream Tours included a complimentary meal that featured conch salad. As part of the efforts to preserve the Queen Conch, Caicos Dream Tours has made our famous conch salad available only upon request for private charters. Caicos Dream Tours cares a great deal about the environment and protecting the beautiful and unique marine ecosystem of the Turks and Caicos Islands, including the Queen Conch.