A Sea Snail Comeback?
Giant sea snails, called conchs, were almost wiped out in some areas, but now their numbers are on the rise
You might come across big, colorful shells in a souvenir shop at the beach this summer. Some of these shells once belonged to queen conchs, pronounced konks—giant sea snails that live for up to 40 years and can grow up to a foot long. But conchs have been nearly wiped out in some areas of the world because they’re being overharvested.
Conchs aren’t caught just for their shells. Their chewy meat— similar to that of squid or octopus—is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. But overfishing and poaching—illegal hunting—are contributing to a decline in some conch populations.
Queen conchs, for example, are found in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the southern Atlantic Ocean. They graze together on sea grass and algae. “Think of them as marine cows,” says Gabriel Delgado, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
By 1986, nearly all conchs were wiped out along the Florida coast. To give them a chance to rebound, the state made it illegal to fish for queen conch. Today about 40,000 adult conchs live off Florida’s coast—up from 5,000 a decade ago.
The U.S. has also banned imports of conch from Haiti and Grenada because of dwindling conch populations in their waters. Mexico, Honduras, and other nations are trying to educate their coastal communities about the importance of conserving queen conchs.