The queen conch, Lobatus gigas, is key to the Bahamian way of life. Recent studies suggest that commercial stocks will be depleted in The Bahamas in 10-15 years. In response to this, an egg farm was established in a historic breeding ground in Moriah Harbour Cay National Park, Exuma, Bahamas. Previously used for aquaculture, the egg farm concept was tested as a restoration method. Conch were tagged (n=251) and stocked in a 1,385 m2 (0.14 ha) circular enclosure at an equivalent density of 1,813/ha or 1 conch/5.5 m2. The egg farm was visited every 24-48 hours during the study period (May 26-August 14, 2019) to examine conch distribution, burial, predation, breeding, and egg mass laying. Queen conch Essential Fish Habitat was characterized in this study, contributing to a knowledge gap concerning conch spawning areas. No egg masses were laid, despite temperature, sediment solid-phase organics, calcium carbonate, and other seagrass habitat characteristics displaying similarities to previous studies in which conch spawned. It is speculated that egg laying did not occur due to handling disturbances, which may have caused the conch to resorb their gonads. Comprehensive recommendations are made for future egg farms intended for restoration.
The study revealed the potential benefits of reestablishing conch back into an overfished area inside of a MPA. Observations and results determined that queen conch are an important keystone herbivore in a seagrass habitat because they shape the ecosystem by grazing on epiphytes and attracting fauna to the area. Therefore, when future marine spatial planning is conducted in Moriah Harbour Cay National Park, the interactions between humans, conch, and the environment should be seriously considered. This practice will encourage the development of a plan for ecosystem protection and restoration, while ensuring sustainable use of natural resources. Although the conch in this study did not produce eggs, other similar studies have proven this concept before. Therefore, this low-tech accessible approach shows promise as a tool for fisheries management and ecosystem restoration. The egg farm could be a new way to address the decline of queen conch populations in The Bahamas and elsewhere in the Caribbean.
|Commitee:||Ajemian, Matthew, Beckler, Jordon|
|School:||Florida Atlantic University|
|School Location:||United States -- Florida|
|Source:||MAI 81/12(E), Masters Abstracts International|
|Keywords:||Breeding population, Enclosure, Excosystem restoration, Marine protected area, Queen conch, Translocation|
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