Project OverviewLac Bay was once a popular spot for conch fishing because the bay was teeming with these marine snails; conch fishing was an important source of income for local fishermen and conch meat a popular ingredient of the local cuisine. As tourism grew on Bonaire, so did the demand for conch; conch meat became popular in restaurants, and its beautiful shell was a popular tourist souvenir. Despite legislation in place to protect conch, heavy fishing in the bay went on for too long and has now become unsustainable. Poaching is rampant and difficult to control because the bay is so large and remote. Recent studies indicate that the remaining conch population is small and made up of few breeding adults.
THE PROJECT: Restore Lac’s conch population.
The Conch Restoration project in Lac Bay was part of a three-year initiative funded by the Dutch Postcode Lottery called “What If We Change”. The project was launched in August 2010 by the national park management organization STINAPA Bonaire. The project aimed to restore conch populations within Lac and use this as the basis for the development of a sustainable conch fishery.
PROJECT IN ACTION: Three components
There were three main components to this project: a media and outreach campaign, scientific research and legal enforcement efforts.
1. A media and outreach campaign was led under the slogan “Ban trese Karko bèk, Laga nan na pas – Pa mañan nos tin mas!” or in English: “Bring back the conch, leave it in peace so there will be more tomorrow!” The goal was to raise awareness amongst the local community of the importance of conch and the need for its protection.
- School presentations (you can download the presentation here).
- Outreach materials were handed out, including posters, buttons, and factsheets on conch.
- Eight documentaries about the project ,“Trese Karko Bek”, aired as episodes on local television and were also shown on the YouTube channel ‘Whatifwechange’ (see the final episode here). Radio advertisements aired on local radio stations, with a special conch jingle.
- A large mural featuring conch was painted on a large prominent wall in the centre of Bonaire’s main town of Kralendijk.
- A new children’s book about the long voyage of the small ‘Lobatus’ and accompanying workbook (download the Dutch Version here) were printed and distributed to schoolchildren.
- The project and the results have been presented at several fairs on Bonaire (Sustainability Fairs and Boneiru Duradero). With a newly received grant a semi-permanent display will be prepared.
2. The scientific component of the program had two goals: to gather information on conch, and to better understand the different habitats of Lac and how these affect the survival of conch.
- Conch were monitored through a tagging program; the goal was to identify the size of the existing population and to follow their growth and migration throughout the duration of the project. Some of the junior rangers assisted with the tagging and the fieldwork (you can see photographs here).
- Several studies were undertaken; they looked at Lac Bay’s habitats, as well as the area’s hydrology and water circulation patterns. In a cooperation with Wageningen University, students studied juveniles and veligers.
- Basic ecosystem management was undertaken: the channels in the mangroves were cleared to improve water flow to the area, and actions were taken to help reduce trampling in seagrass areas.
3. Enforcement was strengthened to reduce poaching of conch and to control conch imports. Conch is protected by island legislation and can only be fished with a permit; however despite the best efforts from the Marine Park rangers, poaching remains the most serious threat to a healthy conch population in Lac.
- Two fishermen were added to the park rangers team to strengthen surveillance; they also are important advocates of the project amongst the local population.
- Conch imports are now being strictly controlled; Queen Conch is listed in Appendix II of CITES and therefore protected under international law. Conch sold in restaurants is being closely monitored.
KEY PROJECT RESULTS
The Conch Restoration project in Lac Bay has been very successful: not only has the population of conch increased, but the project has confirmed that it will be possible to restore a viable fishery in the bay once the conch stock has recovered and poaching is better controlled. Some of the main successes of this project are listed below:
- The population of Queen Conch in Lac has increased as evidenced both anecdotally by fisherman and scientifically through project monitoring efforts.
- Awareness about conch and the need for conch conservation amongst the local community has never been higher and the majority of the community support conch protection.
- Poaching of conch appears to still be going on; the number of reported infractions and/or infractions witnessed by authorities has been reduced. Enforcement efforts to tackle poaching of conch have improved; there is now a park ranger dedicated to Lac and the Marine Park rangers patrol the bay regularly.
- Scientific studies and monitoring have provided invaluable research data on conch populations and their habitat; this data will provide a sound basis for management.