All the harvested conch is prepared to eat right on the boat. // © 2017 Nila Do Simon
Feature image (above): Conch is on the menu in destinations across the Caribbean. // © 2017 Getty Images
A word of advice: When a Bahamian offers to take you conch diving in his native waters, never say no. In fact, profusely say yes, for the experience will be unforgettable. That’s what I did while lodging at The Cove, Eleuthera, a high-end resort in the Bahamas. And what did I do next? I proceeded to look up on my smartphone what the heck a conch was.
For the uninitiated like me, a conch is a mollusk — similar to a sea snail with a pink shell. Conch are indigenous to the Bahamas, and their meat is a staple on local menus, usually prepared battered and fried or in a soup. The Cove offers a private conch-diving excursion that’s topped off with a salad prepared with the conch caught on a dive.
First thing’s first with conch diving: Bring a second set of lungs. That’s because the exertion it takes to plunge down a few feet to grab the conch — against the current, mind you — and then swim upward to the water’s surface is enough to tire out even a relatively active person like me. As I emerged each time hoisting my retrieved conch, I felt like I had just finished sprinting up a flight of stadium stairs. And if you don’t have another pair of lungs on you, do what I did: Rely on your Bahamian guide. Mine surfaced like Jamaican Olympian Usain Bolt cruising in for a gold-medal finish.
We hit pay dirt on our trip: Countless conch were within view — a hunter’s dream. As my guide told me, some conch are off-limits, restricted by the government to protect and conserve the species. It’s only legal to pick up an adult conch — which, according to my guide, is “easily discernible” by its well-formed lip that’s curled upward. So what did I do on my first dive? I grabbed a juvenile conch.
“At least you know now how to dive,” my guide offered as a condolence while I dropped the young conch back onto the sea grass.
All in all, we hauled back more than a dozen conch. Not bad for 20 minutes of work. And, I’m proud to say, I nabbed about half of that load. But the thrill of diving for conch was matched only by the satisfaction of literally tasting the fruits of our labor. The captain and his first mate prepared conch salad right on our boat, complete with fresh vegetables and limes. My taste buds will be forever grateful to my exhausted lungs.
The conch-diving excursion is bookable for an extra fee through The Cove, Eleuthera.