The Conch Farm
We stopped off at the conch farm, another new experience for us. Watching Bear root around in the back of the hire car shows how tiny this little vehicle is - cute though - that's the car not the touche - OK I spose it's cute too for it's age. Cheek - Yes quite.
We had to wait ten minutes for a guide which gave us the chance to look round the tiny gift shop, which sells rare conch pearls, shell jewelry, T-shirts and other bits and bobs. Bear liked this story hanging in the shop about the Island Princess. I managed to resist the urge to buy anything and Bear handed over twenty dollars for both our tours.
We met the CEO Chuck Hesse who was busily guiding a group from the Rotary Club. Some shell artwork on the shop wall.
The Caicos Conch Farm is the only farm of its kind in the world. For this reason alone, many visitors to the Turks and Caicos island of Providenciales have it high on their attraction lists. You can find this unique farm on the relatively unpopulated eastern side of Providenciales, which is an area that is known for its flat, sandy nature. (Way out to sea here you are only in six feet of water). The conch that are farmed in the area are known as Caribbean Queen conchs, and those who visit the farm can learn all about them. They can also learn all about the farming process, and sample the product. Conch have long been a big part of the Caribbean diet, and they are exported internationally in good number.
Conch, which is pronounced as "Conk," is classified as a marine snail. There are various species and they include the Caribbean Queen conch that are grown and harvested here. During the tour we learned about the life cycle of the Queen conch as it progresses from egg to adult. We were told that the chances of an egg making it to adulthood was very slim, here at the farm the rate is 25%. The guide is holding a four year old shell, in the sieve is a two month, six month, eighteen month, two year and the one he is holding which is the size they harvest them here. In the wild fisherman / us must only take a shell when it has reached six inches across which makes the conch about six years old. The most amazing fact we learned was each conch has one shell for life and the pretty pink lining happens from the age of about three. Conch of both sexes can produce pearls from white, beige, yellow and in all shades of pink. One in 10,000 produces a pearl, but in the US it has taken them twenty five years to safely get cultured pearls. One hundred per cent of the queen conch survive the seeding, each queen can produce yet another during her 'reign'. The price - $500 to $1000 a carat.
After our overview talk we went out to the Metamorphosis buildings, used to house the growing creatures
Bear walking up to the algae production tanks
One of the tanks currently holds seven baby turtle orphans, they are fed daily on conch and will eventually be set free as soon as they are big enough
We saw first hand the damage that was done to the farm buildings during the hurricanes mentioned on the sign by the gate. Production last year as a consequence dropped to 80,000, this year should be more near normal.
This wreck will be left here for all time, it belonged to Chuck, who sailed here many years ago, went aground on a local reef and stayed. His memento.
Should you be wondering what conch tastes like, many liken it to calamari or clams. Of course, the way that the meat is seasoned and prepared can have a lot to do with the overall taste. In addition to starring as a main soup or salad ingredient, conch can be eaten raw (I don't even want to think about it or comment here - I've stroked one, I know), and fritters are easy to come by in the Caribbean. We have seen Conch burgers on the menu at one of the Turks and Caicos restaurants. So conch meat is quite versatile. I'll leave the eating to Bear. November sees the Annual Conch Festival takes place on Providenciales. During this popular Turks and Caicos festival, local restaurateurs create original conch dishes in hopes of winning top honours. Free samples are available, and the related events carry on long into the evening hours.
The Conch Farm on Providenciales is open to visitors Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Heaving Down Rock, which is found at the end of Providenciales island's Leeward Highway. The fee to take the tour, is to help sustain the farm's eco-friendly practices. Much of the Caicos Conch Farm mission relates to saving these curious creatures from exploitation and extinction. The tour is modest, but the passion for the cause is palpable. This is truly a hands-on enterprise: It is someone's job to hand-feed food pellets to most of the young conch daily.
Jerry and Sally are the farms' pet conch. They readily come out of their shells to 'expose' themselves. They are both twelve years old and can live until they are about twenty. I asked if there were 'spares' waiting in the wings and was assured there was. You can tell this one is Sally because of the distinct line (vein) down her body
I of course wanted a 'stroke' and yes they feel just like an ordinary snail, but meatier
Shy at first - eventually Jerry came out and yes that black thing is indeed his 'Johnson'. The brown thing - the foot which feel like a toe nail. The two danglies - the eyes
ALL IN ALL QUITE A DIFFERENT FARM VISIT
THE MOST UNIQUE EXPERIENCE