Crazy About Conch

Animal activities in Turks & Caicos

By: Janice Mucalov

Caicos Conch Farm
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 conch.

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 luminescence.

Guide holds Jerry the conch
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 out several

upside-down jellyfish they hover just above the sand bottom. We also spotted well-camouflaged pufferfish in the shallows, and yes, pink conch shells.


Big Blue Unlimited

Caicos Conch Farm

Ocean Club Resorts
Commission: 12.5 percent on nightly rates

Sun Charters
Commission: 10 to 20 percent