Karko or Queen Conch
The Queen Conch or Pink Conch (pronounced “konk”) is a mollusk whose scientific name – Strombus gigas – means “giant spiral shell”. Other types of mollusks are octopus, squids, oysters and clams.
The Queen Conch is an endangered species whose numbers in the Caribbean waters have been vastly reduced by over-fishing. Hence it is a protected species in Bonaire, so it must not be caught. This species is also endangered worldwide, and therefore trade in conch is regulated by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
However, despite the best efforts from the Marine Park, poaching is still a huge problem. Poachers tend to remove small, immature conch before they are able to breed, meaning that these slow-growing animals do not get the chance to rebuild their population (Queen Conch do not reach breeding maturity until three years of age). Please help us put an end to the illegal poaching of Queen Conch; report anyone that you see taking a conch to a marine park ranger.
Conch meat is considered a delicatessen. Tourist love the to take home conch shells as souvenirs.
The queen conch is a protected species in Bonaire since the 1980’s. Even with protection the conch is still being poached for consumption.
In the early 20th century to the midcentury Bonaire exported tons of conch meat to the neighboring islands. At Lac Bay you can still see the remnants of the past in the conch shell midden’s in the area.
Queen conchs have an external spiral shaped shell with spikes with glossy pink or orange interior. The shell consists of calcium carbonate and will continue to grow and form a fan shaped protrusion when they reach adulthood between 3-5 years. After reaching adulthood and the shell is approximately 30 cm in length, the fan shaped protrusion will start to thicken. The thicker the protrusion the older the conch.
A queen conch can live for a very long time. It can reach 30 years of age or even older.
When the fan shaped protrusion of the conch reaches a thickness of 12 to 13 mm, the conch will start to reproduce.
A female queen conch will lay a long strand of a tubular egg mass of approximately 10m containing approximately 500.000 larvae. This strand is folded into a compact egg mass and placed under a piece of coral or rock, hidden away from predators. After 4 to 5 days the egg mass will hatch and the larvae will be carried away by the Caribbean current. About 10 larvae will fit into a drop of water. During the larvae stage the larvae will eat phyto-plankton (plant/algae like microorganisms). Conch larvae are called veligers.
The veligers will drift with the ocean current around for 4 weeks undergoing metamorphosis, until they form a tiny shell and sink to the bottom of the sea. After sinking to the bottom, the tiny conch will bury itself in the sand. The size of the conch is 1mm, smaller than a grain of rice. The tiny conch will feed on algae and decomposed seagrass material. The queen conch is a vegetarian.
The first 3 years of the conch is spent in shallow water with seagrass beds and coral rubble. They will grow approximately 7cm a year. The queen conch is a protected marine species of Bonaire.