'Sustaining queen conch fisheries and livelihoods in the Turks and Caicos Islands': project visit
By Becky Austin, former Senior CITES Policy Advisor
Our latest blog is from Becky Austin, former Senior Cites Policy Advisor, who visited the Turks and Caicos Islands, a UK Overseas Territory located in the Caribbean, earlier in the year as part of the 'Sustaining queen conch fisheries and livelihoods in the Turks and Caicos Islands' project, funded by EU RESEMBID (Resilience, Sustainable Energy and Marine Biodiversity. Members of the project team will be returning to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) in July for the next phase of the project.
Earlier in the year, I was lucky enough to return to the beautiful Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), alongside my JNCC colleague Ellen Last, with the principal aim of completing domestic consumption surveys for our ongoing EU-Resembid funded project.
We hit the ground running and leapt straight into a press conference to formally introduce the project and its aims to the general public. This was a great opportunity to advertise our upcoming survey work in newspapers and on radio; affording us an opportunity to explain the reasons for our work and the importance of the involvement of the general public. We were most fortunate to be accompanied by the new Permanent Secretary, Mr. Clerveaux and Minister for Environment Hon. Josephine Connolly, alongside our other key partners on the project from the TCI Government Departments of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR), and Fisheries and Marine Resources Management (FMRM).
Some of the project partners in the Turks and Caicos Islands in January 2023. From left: Becky Austin – Senior CITES Policy Advisor (JNCC), Ellen Last – Fisheries Advice Manager (JNCC), JNCC, Lormeka Williams – Director (DECR), Wesley Clerveaux – Permanent Secretary, Hon. Josephine Connolly – Minister, Thecla Joseph – Director (FMRM), Henry Wilson – Deputy Director (FMRM), Kathy Lockhart – Assistant Director (FMRM), and Ronlee James – Deputy Permanent Secretary. Image courtesy of Becky Austin.
The rest of our short but packed 10-day visit involved undertaking short surveys with businesses, residents and tourists on the consumption of queen conch in TCI. This carried on the hard work already undertaken by FMRM survey staff in the months prior to our visit, with questions revolving around the price, source, size, weight, and overall quantity of queen conch purchased and eaten across all islands.
Working alongside FMRM and DECR staff, we were able to talk to over 90 businesses, 100 tourists and 75 residents across Providenciales, Grand Turk, South Caicos, North Caicos and Middle Caicos: not only completing surveys but also listening to the views and concerns about the conch fishery of a wide range of people.
In amongst the long days of surveying Ellen and I were also granted the opportunity to meet with the former Governor of TCI, HE Nigel Dakin CMG, to further discuss our project activities and aims and report on the progress of data collection. The queen conch fishery in TCI is of great economic importance, with a great many livelihoods dependent on this key marine resource into the future. TCI harbours a great wealth of marine biodiversity; and whilst an outwardly unassuming species, the queen conch plays its vital part in the wider marine ecosystem: not only providing a food source for higher trophic levels, but regulating the abundance of algae on seagrass beds; thus maintaining this important carbon sink and important habitat for many other species.
With our visit to TCI already long behind us, JNCC colleagues have since been busy using the data gathered to establish an estimate of unreported local harvest of conch for domestic consumption. This information, which was last assessed over ten years ago and has never included data from businesses, will inform an updated stock assessment and management plan for the queen conch fishery in TCI, assisting in the long-term sustainability of the fishery.
I will finish on a few of my personal highlights of our brief visit to TCI. Looking out over the cliffs onto the glorious beaches at Mudjin Harbour, Middle Caicos, following a morning of surveying in this most remote area of our visit; and flying over the Caicos Bank on the way to South Caicos in a tiny 12-seater plane, are experiences I will certainly never forget. However, the opportunity to work in-person with my fantastic colleagues in TCI Government and talk to so many residents of all different backgrounds about their marine environment reaffirmed to me just how vital, and how fragile, our biodiversity is, and how important this and other conservation work is for people and nature.
Mudjin Harbour, Middle Caicos. Image courtesy of Becky Austin.
To find out more about the project, visit the project webpage. Members of the project team will be returning to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) for the next phase of the project in early July.