Scientifically: a Conch is a very large underwater snail that is native to the Caribbean Sea and as far north as Florida in the Atlantic. In its plankton-sized larval stage the baby conch drifts with water currents for 3 weeks until it settles into a suitable site. After metamorphosing, the juvenile conch or "roller" buries itself in shallow sand beds, hiding from predators and eating algae. Its shell is initially all white without its characteristic flare, gradually developing streaks of brown and finally its pinkish colour after 1 year. As the conch grows bigger it moves to deeper and deeper water, eating algae in seagrass beds. Considering that it eats nothing but algae for its entire life, the conch grows very quickly -- to 1/4 pound in the first year and up to 5 pounds after 4 years. To complete the cycle the 4-year-old female conch returns to shallow water to lay its 400,000 eggs. Ideally, there should be 50 conchs per hectare to ensure mating. A conch can live for up to 30 years, returning to the shallows every year to mate.
The outer body covering of the conch -- its mantle -- creates its shell as it grows. As the snail gets bigger the mantle pushes the shell material away from its body, making the flare of the shell more pronounced and thicker.
Culturally: The Queen Conch was prized by the Lucayans for its meat and its shell, which was used for jewelry and tools, for trading, as bait fish and as a musical instrument or signal horn. The Bahamians have similarly incorporated Conch into their diet and economy, generating over 5 million dollars annually from this ocean resource.
Environmentally: The conch is an important link in the shallow water ecosystem of the Caribbean. The Queen Conch is being threatened by over-harvesting and loss of habitat. To develop sustainable conch populations Bahamians are working with other Caribbean countries to protect the Queen Conch. Regulations vary. In the Bahamas it is illegal to harvest Conch using SCUBA gear and the Conch must be at least 4 years old (as determined by the thickness of the shell's flare). Additionally, in 2013 a network of 17 connected Marine Protection Areas was established throughout The Bahamas to encourage breeding and nursery habitats.