Bahamian Queen Conch Fishery Hurtles Toward Collapse

We Bahamians think we know a lot about conch.

Most of us learned to dive conchs before we were tall enough to go on carnival rides. We’ve sat in the warm, shallow water and eaten “scorched” conch — raw and doused in lime juice — fresh from the sea. And we’ve watched as our parents and grandmothers taught us how to fritter, steam and stew our country’s native dish.
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the Queen Conch — the most common Bahamian conch species — for the current issue of Abaco Life magazine.

While researching this piece, however, I realized just how much I didn’t know. I learned, for example, that a Queen Conch can live up to 30 years! And that in 1883, an event halfway around the globe thrust the Bahamian Queen Conch onto the world stage.

I also discovered something that should disturb us all — Bahamians and visitors alike.   Continue reading

Adventure, Enterprise and Infamy – Island Roots 2016

Finally, I’ve had the chance to sort and edit my photos from the recent Island Roots Heritage Festival. As always, it was a fun-filled weekend on Green Turtle Cay.

Island Roots Heritage Festival -- May 2016, Green Turtle Cay Continue reading

Look Out for Lydia

If, like my friend Angie, you’re not a fan of sharks, this is definitely not the post for you. Quit reading right now and find something else to do.

Still with me? Then allow me to introduce you to Lydia. She’s a great white, one of a hundred or so sharks worldwide being studied by OCEARCH – a non-profit organization that examines the biology, health and migration of sharks and other top predators in an effort to protect them and enhance public safety and education.

lydia, bahamas, great white, shark

Lydia in OCEARCH’s specialized lift, prior to tagging (photo courtesy of http://www.ocearch.org)

Thanks to a tracking tag, OCEARCH has been following Lydia’s movements since March 2013. And the girl really gets around. She’s traveled more than 35,000 miles in two years, venturing as far north as Newfoundland, Canada and east across the Atlantic almost to the UK.

Whenever Lydia surfaces for more than a minute or so, her tagging device signals a satellite, reporting her location. Her most recent ping, detected March 12, indicated she was headed straight for the Bahamas.

By tagging Lydia and other sharks, OCEARCH can track and study them in a way that’s impossible to do with free-swimming, untagged creatures. According to the organization, the tracking tags don’t injure the sharks or disrupt their normal movements or lifespans. (Did you know great whites can live up to 70 years?!)

On OCEARCH’s website, you can view Lydia’s complete profile and track the movements of all their tagged sharks by name or geographic area.

Lydia’s current location won’t be known until she “pings” again, but if you’re in or near the Bahamas, keep an eye out for her. At 2,000 pounds and 14.5 ft long — and with red and blue tags on her dorsal fin — she shouldn’t be hard to spot!

lydia, bahamas, great white, shark

Tagged and ready to go (photo courtesy of http://www.ocearch.org)

Please Help Save Nunki

bahamas, abaco, wild horses, nunki, barbs, spanish colonial

Nunki, the last remaining Abaco Barb. (Photo courtesy of Arkwild/Wild Horses of Abaco Preservation Society.)

Nunki is a horse. Not just any horse, but the world’s only remaining Abaco Barb. And she desperately needs help.

Nunki’s ancestors — Spanish Barbs (aka Spanish Colonial horses) originally brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus six centuries ago — were transported by logging companies from Cuba to Abaco in the late 19th century.

For decades, these Abaco Barbs roamed free, and their population grew to 200 or more. In recent years however, hurricanes, fires and development have destroyed their habitat and all but eradicated the breed.

Since 1992, through her organizations Arkwild (a registered U.S. 501C charity) and the Wild Horses of Abaco Preservation Society (a Bahamian non-profit organization, also known as WHOA), Milanne Rehor has tirelessly worked to protect the few remaining Abaco Barbs.

Sadly, in the last several years, two mares and a stallion have died, leaving Nunki alone. Since there are very few Spanish Barbs remaining in the New World (or even in Spain), Nunki is literally one of the last horses on the planet with this genetic lineage.

To save the breed, a critical project is underway to harvest Nunki’s eggs and fertilize them with sperm from a DNA-compatible stallion. Resulting embryos will be implanted in surrogate mares, who’ll deliver their foals on Abaco soil, where in time, they will hopefully bring Abaco Barbs back from the brink of extinction. This project shows great promise and experts say Nunki is an excellent candidate for egg harvest.

Unfortunately, Nunki has recently taken ill. The good news is that her condition is highly treatable, and there are top equine vets prepared to donate their time and expertise to help. The bad news? Arkwild and WHOA must raise funds to cover the vets’ travel, accommodation and on-island transportation.

Please, please help save Nunki and her desperately endangered breed. Here’s how:

  • DONATE TODAY via the Arkwild website. Every single dollar helps. (And it’s tax deductible if you’re in the U.S.)
  • Spread the word by sharing this page with anyone who might be able to make a financial donation or offer travel and accommodations for the veterinarians.
  • Contact Arkwild/WHOA immediately at 242.577.4573 or info@abacohorses.com if you can supply travel or accommodations for the vets.

And for updates on Nunki, visit Arkwild/WHOA’s Facebook page.

bahamas, abaco, wild horses, barbs, spanish colonial

Nunki (Photo courtesy of Arkwild/Wild Horses of Abaco Preservation Society.)

About Those Fish Hooks…

A guest post, from my husband, Tom Walters.

For some on Green Turtle Cay, our little house by the ferry will always be thought of as “Miss May’s.” And their memories of Amanda’s great-grandmother, May Curry, have a recurring theme.

At a time when many people cobbled together a livelihood in a variety of entrepreneurial ways, Miss May sold fish hooks to the local children. Almost without exception, those old enough to remember her at all remember buying them from her. As Amanda described in her first post on this site, this made the idea of calling the house “Fish Hooks” irresistible to us.

An actual fish hook sold by my great-grandmother, May Gates Curry. Model ship builder Vertrum Lowe recently discovered the hook -- in its original container -- among his treasures from the past, and has kindly donated them to the Albert Lowe Museum.

An actual fish hook sold by Amanda’s great-grandmother, May Curry. Model ship builder Vertrum Lowe recently discovered the hook in its original wooden container among his treasures from the past, and has kindly donated them to the Albert Lowe Museum.

But there is one detail of this story I have struggled to understand.

Miss May’s former customers would often tell of using her tackle and their mothers’ sewing thread to go after bait fish in the harbour. And, occasionally pointing to the nails on their baby fingers, they would describe how small the hooks were. “Tiny shad hooks,” they would say.

That’s where the story stopped making sense. Tiny shad hooks? They might as well have said “pocket-size pickup trucks.”

IMG_7787 22

The thing is, I once had the privilege of casting for shad on Nova Scotia’s Shubenacadie River with Dennis Grant of the Atlantic Fly Fishing School. So the shad I know is a big brute of the herring family. Like the salmon, it goes upriver to spawn. And, like the salmon, it is a thrilling fighter. Five or six pounds of line-stripping rage.

So, while kids jigging for shiners off the New Plymouth dock made perfect sense to me, the idea that fish hooks of pinkie-nail size were designed for shad was a contradiction I could not reconcile.

At least, not until I saw this fascinating post about bonefish on the Rolling Harbour Abaco blog.

Citing research work by the Cape Eleuthera Institute and the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, it explains how juvenile bonefish may improve their chances for survival by blending in with schools of tiny mojarras. Which, I now learn, are known in the Bahamas as “shad.”

And so the light bulb comes on.

Bonefish3_enews-1024x731

Mojarras, or, as they’re known in the Bahamas, shad. Photo credit: Cape Eleuthera Institute

It is not the first time, of course, that I have noticed regional variations in the common names of fish. For example, the species known in most of the world as “turbot” – and that was once at the center of a shooting war between Canada and Spain – is a cold water flatfish like a halibut. In Bermuda, the Bahamas, and parts of the Caribbean, however, “turbot” is widely used to refer to triggerfish. (Which, you’d think, would have been more likely to inspire an exchange of gunfire.)

In any case, I can finally recount the story of Miss May selling “tiny shad hooks” without confusion, because I now know they were not meant for the creatures I met on the Shubenacadie. And because it makes far more sense here on Green Turtle Cay than saying “mojarra hooks.”

Bahamian Conservation: Turning the Tide

Recently, I came across a Miami Herald article about the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust’s conservation efforts in the Bahamas. It reminded me of a wonderful bonefishing day Tom and I had with Green Turtle Cay’s Captain Rick Sawyer a couple of years back.

IMG_0113

A Quick Fly Fishing Refresher Course with Captain Rick Sawyer

Though Tom had previously done some fly fishing, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me telling you he was more than a little rusty. But with Rick’s patience and guidance (and his ability to spot bonefish at amazing distances), Tom was soon reeling one in. After a quick photo op, back into the water it went.

First Catch of the DayWhile Tom practiced his fly casting — catching another bonefish in the process — I enjoyed the view as Rick propelled us across the grassy green shallows of Coco Bay. I spotted sea biscuits, sand dollars and starfish in the clear water. Stingrays drifted lazily by and at one point, a little turtle popped up to greet us.

To be honest, I hadn’t planned to fish. I was happy just to spend time with Tom out on the water. But later, as we floated across the flats south of the settlement, he and Rick convinced me to take a turn — though I opted for a regular rod and bait instead of fly fishing.

By then, an afternoon breeze had kicked up, making it difficult to spot fish beneath the water’s rippled surface. (Truthfully, even when the water was glass-calm, I struggled to see the bonefish that Rick seemed to spot so effortlessly.)

Reeling in My Bonefish

Reeling in My Bonefish

When he pointed to clear patch of water some distance off the port side, I cast my line and waited. A few moments later, I felt a small, disappointing pull. The kind that says you’re about to land a hook full of grass. I sighed and began winding in. But then I felt a strong tug. And sure enough, my very first bonefish was on the line.

It truly was a terrific day, with much fishing success and a great many laughs. But the thing that struck me most was a conversation we had with Rick about conservation.

Though bonefish used to be considered a local staple (apparently, it was one of my grandfather’s favourites), for guides like Rick, bonefishing is strictly a catch-and-release endeavour. Having been a fishing guide for more than a quarter century, he understands first-hand the importance of conserving the natural resources of the Bahamas.

Getting Ready to Release

Preparing for Release

Unfortunately, the same cannot yet be said of all Bahamians. In fairness, it wasn’t that long ago that bonefish, crawfish, conch, grouper, turtles and whelks were plentiful.

When we were kids, my grandmother regularly served seafood — grouper cutlets, crab-and-rice and stewed whelks were some of my favourites. And when she was a child, conchs were so inexpensive — “You could buy a big bunch of them for a thruppence,” she said — that Pa Herman fed them to his hogs!

Today, many local species of fish and shellfish are difficult to come by. Rarely do you spot a turtle, especially of any size. Grouper is hard to find and costly even when you can find it. Whelks are virtually nonexistent.

Local overfishing and less-than-responsible fishing practices are primarily responsible, though uninformed visitors must shoulder some of the blame. (A Green Turtle Cay resident recently told me about being “cussed out” by a boatload of tourists after explaining that the conchs they were harvesting were juveniles and suggesting they leave them in the sea to mature.) And the recent, inadvertent introduction of the lionfish — which has no natural predators in the local ecosystem — has only exacerbated the problem.

Understandably, the transition from a mindset of abundance to one of conservation is not easy. Still, given the number of Bahamians whose livelihoods rely, either directly or indirectly, on the sea, it’s vital.

Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning. A number of organizations, including the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the Bahamas National Trust and Friends of the Environment, have created strategies for protecting and preserving local sea life. Conservation programs have been implemented for grouper, turtles, crawfish and coral reefs.

At last May’s Island Roots Heritage Festival, I learned about the recently launched “Conchservation” campaign, which teaches people to identify and harvest only mature conchs. And numerous efforts, including an annual fishing derby, are underway to control and eradicate the lionfish population.

I’ll write more about Bahamian conservation programs in future posts. In the meantime, for more information about fly fishing or deep-sea fishing with Captain Rick Sawyer, check out his website (where I notice he’s offering some specials during March.) You can also reach him at (242) 365-4261 or info@abacoflyfish.com.

Homeward Bound After a Fun Fishing Day

Homeward Bound After a Fun Fishing Day

Save

Fish Hooks Video Diary: Ready, Set…

This is it! The new foundation is ready, the house is fully braced and the utilities have been disconnected. All that’s left now is the big move. We’re hoping it will be later today (Thursday) or Friday. Will post an update as soon as we’ve got confirmation.

Related: A Solid Start, The Cellar, Beam it Up, We’ve Hooked the Small One