“Conched” Out in Turks and Caicos: Exploring the World of the Caribbean Queen
Anyone who has strolled on the sandy shores of an island has kept an eye out for the coveted conch shell. Perhaps the most recognizable of all seashells, the horn-shaped conch represents a tie to the sea — who hasn’t held one up to his or her ear and listened to hear the ocean waves crashing within the shell?
Although conchs can be found in the wild on almost all of the Caribbean islands, in Turks and Caicos, you’ll find these symbols of the beach and laidback Caribbean lifestyle in a one-of-a-kind environment.
On the island of Providenciales, visitors can explore the world’s only conch farm, the Turks and Caicos Conch Farm. Although visitors tend to value conchs for their impressive shells, the mollusk inside — a type of snail — is an important staple of the Caribbean diet. Conch, which refers to several varieties of mollusk, including Caribbean Queen, Pacific Rim and Island Princess, is also a major export of the Turks and Caicos. This makes the farm an important contributor to the islands’ economy.
Visiting the Conch Farm
When you’re at the conch farm, you’ll be able to see the lifecycle of the conch, starting from egg mass all the way through the harvest. The tour begins with an overview of the conch industry and its history, and then you’ll work your way through exhibits showing the animals’ development. The backdrop of the tour is the offshore “pasture,” an enclosed area in the sea where the conchs grow and develop into the familiar large specimens.
During the tour, visitors have the opportunity to pick up and hold one of the millions of immature conchs that are growing in the onshore pens before being transferred to the ocean. You’ll also have a photo opportunity with the two resident adult conchs, Sally and Jerry, who are local legends on the islands.
More Than Just a Tourist Attraction
While the Turks and Caicos Conch Farm is an interesting, as well as unusual, place to visit, it also serves an important purpose. Conchs born in the wild have a slim chance of survival; by some estimates, fewer than five percent of all conchs actually grow to adulthood in the wild, making the creature vulnerable to extinction. At the conch farm, more than 25 percent of the eggs survive to adulthood, ensuring both the survival of the species and the conch industry, which has been impacted by over-farming and natural causes over the last few decades.
The Turks and Caicos Conch Farm is one of the most unique attractions on the islands and worth a visit for anyone who wants to learn more about the animals and their role in Caribbean life. The next time you enjoy a plate of conch salad or get lucky enough to find a conch shell on the beach (or, more likely, in the gift shop), you’ll have a much fuller understanding of this natural wonder.
About the Author: Deborah Lee Brown travels to the Caribbean several times a year and considers her Parrot Cay villa in Turks and Caicos her second home.