The Queen Conch, pronounced "Queen konk”, Lobatus gigas is also known as Eustrombus gigas or Strombus gigas. They are soft-bodied marine snails, belonging to the group, Mollusca, class Gastropod. They live in shallow, warm waters on coral reefs or sea grass beds. Conch range throughout the Caribbean in warm waters varying in depths from 1 to 70 feet, but they have been found at depths of 500 feet. Conch may wander for miles foraging on algae, sea grasses, sand. This species is one of the largest molluscs native to the tropical northwestern Atlantic.
Worldwide, several large species of Conch are economically important as food sources; Six species live in the greater Caribbean region including our endangered Queen Conch. Queen Conch meat is consumed domestically throughout the Caribbean and exported as a delicacy. Their slow growth, occurrence in shallow waters and late maturation make Queen Conch particularly susceptible to over-fishing, their greatest threat. Habitat degradation, over-fishing, and the use of SCUBA have led to harvest of previously unexploited populations in deeper waters.
International trade in Queen Conch is regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreement, in which it is listed as Strombus gigas. This species is not endangered in the Caribbean as a whole, but is commercially threatened in numerous areas, largely due to extreme over-fishing. CITES recommended that all countries prohibit importation from Honduras, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Queen conch meat continues to be available from other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica and Turks and Caicos, which operate well-managed queen conch fisheries.
Conch meat has been consumed for centuries and has traditionally been an important part of the diet in many islands in the West Indies. It is consumed raw, marinated, minced or chopped in a wide variety of dishes, such as salads, ceviche, chowders, fritters, soups, stews, pâtés and other local recipes.
Queen conch was once found in high numbers in the Florida Keys but, due to a collapse in conch fisheries in the 1970s, it is now illegal to commercially or recreationally harvest queen conch in that state. The United States is responsible for the consumption of 80% of the world’s internationally traded queen conch.
The true conch has a foot ending in a pointed, sickle-shaped, operculum which can be dug into the substrate as part of an unusual "leaping" locomotion. The edible meat comes from this single, long foot common to all snails.
A queen conch can reach up to 13.9 inches / 35.2 centimeters in length and can live for 40 years. Its shell grows as the mollusk grows, forming into a spiral shape with a glossy pink or orange interior. True conches grow a flared lip on their shells only upon reaching sexual maturity. This is called an alated outer lip or alation.
Common names include "Queen Conch" and
"Pink Conch" in English, Caracol rosa and Caracol rosado in Mexico, Carrucho in Puerto Rico,
Caracol de pala, Cobo, Botuto and Guarura in South America, Caracol Reina in the Dominican Republic, and Lambí in Haiti .
The Carib, the Arawak and Taíno, in addition to eating the meat, used conch shells to fabricate tools such as knives, axe heads and chisels, jewelry, cookware and used them as blowing horns. Aztecs used the shell as part of jewelry mosaics such as the double-headed serpent. Brought by explorers, Queen Conch shells quickly became a popular asset in early modern Europe. Where they were widely used as decorations.
Very rarely, about 1 in 10,000 conchs, a conch pearl may be found within the mantle. Though they occur in a range of colors corresponding to the colors of the interior of the shell, pink specimens are the most valuable. These pearls are considered semi-precious. Biologically speaking, under the right set of circumstances, almost any shelled mollusk can produce some kind of pearl, however, like the Queen Conch pearls, most of these molluscan pearls have no luster or iridescence. A conch pearl is a non-nacreous pearl which differs from most pearls that are sold as as gemstones.