Visitors to Caicos Conch Farm
look at conch in an onshore-pen.
C’mon out, Jerry,” coaxed Denver Fortune, as he rubbed the pink lip
of the Caribbean Queen conch shell.
Slowly, out slid a long, skinny, slug-like critter with eyes
atop two stalks.
“Now say hello to Sally, who’s eight years old,” said Fortune,
as he returned Jerry to the tank of seawater and picked up the
other large pink conch shell. She too slithered out on command.
We were touring the Caicos Conch Farm with our guide, Denver
Fortune. He wouldn’t explain how he “trained” Jerry and Sally, but
our group all agreed that their performance was the highlight of
our 30-minute tour. I just felt bad that I’d devoured so many
delicious conch fritters on this visit to the island of
Providenciales (“Provo”) in Turks & Caicos.
Swimming, sunning (especially on the 12-mile stretch of powdery
sand at Grace Bay Beach) and scuba diving and snorkeling are what
bring most people to Provo. But the Caicos Conch Farm makes for an
entertaining and educational diversion especially if the skies turn
drizzly, which was the case for us that day, and the reason we
ended up going crazy over conch.
The tour starts with a short biology lesson about conch, then
moves to a series of indoor tanks inside greenhouse-like
structures, where you can see the tiny mollusks after they’ve
hatched. You then continue outside to holding ponds onshore, where
some 3 million larger conch are housed, before being transferred to
ocean-holding pens. It takes about three to four years before conch
grow to become full-lipped adults (and edible), 10 years to grow
into the beautiful pink shells known as the Caribbean Queen
The Caicos Conch Farm is the world’s only conch farm. Wild conch
have been fished heavily and are now an endangered species,
explained Fortune, adding that the Turks and Caicos islands have
prohibited wild conch fishing. Restaurants on the islands get their
conch from the farm.
Of course, rain never sticks around for long in paradise, and the
next day we set out for an all-day sailing trip with Sun Charters.
The weather was a little rough as we headed out, but our vessel,
the 77-foot schooner “Atabeyra,” handled the waves well. A few
mojitos mixed by Carmela Giordano the food and beverage manager for
Ocean Club Resorts, which catered the day’s food and drinks and was
where we stayed helped the time pass quickly.
The turquoise waters surrounding the eight main islands and more
than 20 smaller cays comprising the Turks and Caicos are ideal for
sailing. We stopped at Dellis Cay for lunch, a swim and some
beachcombing for conch shells.
Every month, special glow-worm sunset cruises are offered after
a full moon. That’s when the marine glow worms perform a ritual
mating dance that lights up the darkening sky with a green
Guide Denver Fortune
holds Jerry the conch.
Want to see the world’s only rock iguanas? Then paddle over from
Provo to Little Water Cay, a small uninhabited islet maintained by
the Turks and Caicos National Trust as a nature reserve for over
2,000 endangered rock iguanas. Big Blue Unlimited takes visitors on
half-day, eco-kayaking trips to Little Water Cay.
After basic instruction, we set off in stable double kayaks. We
were fighting the wind, so by the time we beached on Little Water
Cay, our arms were ready for a break. Following Donnie Killorn, our
kayaking guide, we walked along one of two wooden boardwalks
through the sand and scrub and sea grape trees, and almost
immediately spied our first iguana, about one foot long from head
to tail with a spiny crested back. Then another. Then no more.
Typically you see hundreds of these gentle lizards up close. But
they like to stay hidden on overcast days and in the late
afternoons. Having lingered over lunch at the Provo Golf and
Country Club, we arrived late at Little Water Cay and missed seeing
more. No matter, the two we saw were cool enough. On the paddle
back, we nosed into channels of a mangrove swamp. Donnie pointed
upside-down jellyfish they hover just above the sand bottom. We
also spotted well-camouflaged pufferfish in the shallows, and yes,
pink conch shells.