By Mackenzie Miller:
Union Island is one of the smaller islands in the Caribbean chain. Because of this, the island has a very strong sense of community. The island functions much like a small town in America where everyone knows everyone, greeting each other and having brief conversations as one passes. This strong sense of community also translates to them caring for their local environment. Union island has many conservation efforts taking place on the island including things such as water retention and recycling programs.
One major conservation effort is taking place in their local government agency regarding the queen conch. A common source of income for many people on the island is to free dive and SCUBA dive to catch queen conch. This species is an expensive luxury in most places in America. Yet, the divers here must catch up to 200- 300 per day to make a living. This causes a couple of problems. The first is that to increase profit, the divers will use various breathing tactics to increase their bottom time and catch more conch in a shorter amount of time. This can be very dangerous as it increases their odds of getting a gas embolism or running out of air underwater.
Another issue caused is that the queen conch is very vulnerable to overfishing and is considered endangered in many tropical areas, such as the Florida Keys. To lessen both of these effects, the government is trying to increase the price of conch to a set price so that there are no fluctuations based on market demand. This set price will hopefully lessen the amount of conch being caught per day while still allowing the divers to make a livable wage. This will overall put less strain on the conch population, their underwater environment, and the people of Union.
The picture attached below is one of the many piles of conch shells around the island. These piles have developed over the years as the fishermen would dump them all in one place after they harvested the animal. No matter where you go on the island, there seems to be an empty conch shell nearby.
The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. In 2019 and 2021, the course went to the Carmabi research station in Curaçao and dived around the island over a 10-day period, for training and to carry out research projects. In 2018, the group went to Soufriere, Saint Lucia, and took part in various projects in partnership with the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.