A Remote Trip in Search of Bahamian Queen Conch

Our team of scientists used snorkel tow boards to efficiently count conch while collecting geolocated habitat imagery.

Guest post by Dr. Andy Kough, research associate, Shedd Aquarium

Queen conch, Lobatus gigas, is an iconic but threatened Caribbean species. The Bahamas are one of the last strongholds where conchs are still fished, but populations are in decline. The first step for protecting a species and replenishing its numbers is describing where healthy populations still exist and how they relate to disappearing populations.

Our team of scientists used snorkel tow boards to efficiently count conch while collecting geolocated habitat imagery.

Earlier this month, a team from the Shedd Aquarium returned from an expedition down to the Sand Bores at the southern tip of the Tongue of the Ocean to survey for queen conch. This rugged and beautiful area has been largely uncharted since a visit by HMS ships Lark and Thunder in the mid-1800s and was full of unknowns. The Shedd Aquarium’s research vessel, the Coral Reef II, was the perfect scientific platform for exploring the area. Our team of Shedd researchers, citizen scientists from Community Conch, Bahamian college students, and collaborators from the Smithsonian Institute and the University of Miami used snorkel tow boards to cover over 150km of seafloor with georeferenced photography.

Now that we are back on dry land we are stitching these photos together into high resolution maps of our survey area, showing both animals and habitat. The tow boards let us cover a large area and helped us observe sporadically distributed animals in addition to conch, including marine mammals, elasmobranchs and Nassau grouper. The boards were also efficient at concentrating curious schools of large barracuda that would monitor our progress throughout their territory by swimming closely behind us and counting how many toes we had on each foot.

We documented that the ecosystem consisted of shallow rubble strewn bottom, vast expanses of oolitic —> Read More

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