Caicos Conch Farm: I thought I might never eat conch again
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I love conch. For me, the spiral-shaped shell with its glossy, hot pink interior is a symbol of the Caribbean and easily prompts me to daydream of white sandy beaches, palm trees and pretty cocktails.
I also think conch is damn tasty and have enjoyed it in many forms such as conch fritters, conch chowder and conch salad.
So when I heard that Providenciales in the Turks & Caicos Islands was home to the Caicos Conch Farm, the world’s only commercial conch farm, I was keen to learn more about this beguiling mollusk. I was even hoping they’d serve an appetizer or two. But I was in for a few surprises.
The Caicos Conch Farm is the only commercial conch farm in the world. And that’s important because the incredibly edible wild strombus gigas (that’s the Queen Conch’s official name) is at risk. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA) a government body responsible for protecting threatened marine life, in some parts of the Caribbean it’s endangered due to pollution and over-fishing for its meat and decorative value.
Although Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos islands are considered to have well-managed Queen Conch fisheries, other nations aren’t so well-managed.
Here’s where Caicos Conch Farm comes in. Since 1984, they’ve been farming conch in order to meet demand in a sustainable way. Farm raised conch are not designated endangered. Our tour began with a biology lesson on the life cycle of the Caribbean Queen Conch and the technology used at the Caicos Conch Farm from collection of the egg mass through hatching, grow-out and harvesting as an adult. Then we headed outdoors to see the farming operation first hand.
We learned how, fed with micro and then macro algae, the glossy shell continues to thicken and grow throughout the conch’s lifetime. In the wild, a Queen Conch will live 20-30 years. But if it’s being cultivated, its days are numbered. They achieve full size and are harvested by the time they’re four years old.
It was at this point of the tour where we learned that the Queen Conch is part of an animal class, that translated from Latin, means “Stomach Foot.” I began to hope we wouldn’t be offered a conch tasting.
We then met “Sally” and “Jerry” two resident conch that have made it to 12 and 14 years old. Jerry is notable in that his male appendage aka his “pistol” can grow to two feet long or was it nine feet? No matter, if it gets cut off, he just regrows it again. Herein lies the belief among many that conch is a natural aphrodisiac.
My nine-year old grandson — my go-to guy on everything scientific, tech or sports related– found the info on the regenerative powers of a conch’s privates fascinating. Me, not so much. I began to think about the conch I’d seen and eaten. And I began to feel a bit queasy.
By the time I heard that preparing conch meat involves removing the proboscis, the intestines and face, I would rather have gnawed on a conch shell than eaten the meat.
Of course, that all changed when I got to the Island Fish Fry, a Thursday night street party on Providenciales that involves live music, handmade crafts and authentic local cuisine. After downing one of the legendary rum punches, I decided that Jerry the Conch was likely safely asleep at his home at Caicos Conch Farm and would never know what I was up to a few short miles away.
One order of sustainable conch fritters please.
Cost: $12 USD Adults $8 Children Under age 4: free
Tour: Plan to spend one hour at Caicos Conch Farm for the presentation, 30-minute tour of the facility and browsing the gift shop.
Location: Caicos Conch Farm is located at the end of the Leeward Highway
Phone: (649) 946-5330
Hours: Monday-Friday 9am -4pm, Saturday 9:00 am – 2:30 pm Sundays Closed
Where to Stay: Caicos Conch Farm is a short distance from Ocean Club Resorts ( we stayed at Ocean Club West) home to the well-worth-a-visit Seaside Cafe, a two-time winner of the island’s “Best Conch Salad” award.
Island Fish Fry: Presented by the Turks & Caicos Tourist Board and Cultural Department, this Thursday evening event is a popular activity among locals and visitors to Providenciales. It takes place 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm at Bight Park, located oceanfront on Lower Bight Road. Get there early to get to the front of the conch line at popular Island Fish Fry food stalls such as Kayjo’s and Dolphin’s.
If you’re into snails and other shelled marine life, check out these travel stories:
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