Species Spotlight: Aliger gigas, the Queen Conch

Aliger gigas by Pauline Walsh Jacobson used under CC BY-NC 2.0. Original photo.

If you’ve ever wondered where sea shells come from, you might be surprised to know that most of them actually come from marine animals! Animals from Phylum Mollusca are defined by their ability to secrete calcium carbonate in the form of spicules or shells — the very same shells we see as we stroll along the shore.

Conches (pronounced “konks”) are large gastropod mollusks known worldwide in tropical and subtropical areas¹. Their shells lengthen and grow in a spiral as they age up to a point; afterwards they start to form a broad flared lip². Conch shells come in a variety of color, shapes, and sizes so seeing them scattered throughout the beach is an adventure in and of itself.

The conch known as the Queen or Pink Conch, Aliger gigas, is one of the largest snails in the ocean² and is identified through its internal shell colored deep pink. Its geographic distribution extends from Florida throughout the Caribbean and into the northern coast of South America to Brazil³. Prior to the 1970’s, A. gigas wasn’t as easily transportable compared to now. The queen conch is relied upon by communities for subsistence and artisanal fishery⁴, but once word spread around of its meat and pink shell, demand drastically increased for the species throughout the Caribbean. This, coupled with improved technologies to transport stock throughout the globe resulted in overexploitation and the decline of its population⁵.

Deep pink internal shell of the pink conch by Pauline Walsh Jacobson used under CC BY-NC 2.0. Original photo.

Reports show that commercial fishery of A. gigas comes only second after spiny lobster fishery in terms of economic importance in the Bahamas, Belize, and Turks and Caicos Islands³. Continuing population decline and risk of overfishing has prompted the inclusion of A. gigas in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)⁶, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently proposed a rule to list it as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act⁴.

These rules and regulations can only go so far in protecting the species; it’s imperative that local communities and governing bodies conduct activities to ensure the protection of the species. Studies show that the establishment of marine protected areas⁷ and implementing size-based regulations⁸ are some of the options to aid the declining population of this species.

To know more about the Queen Conch, visit SeaLifeBase.

Written by: Jasper Mendoza, Research Assistant

If you have more information on conches and other non-fish organisms, we’ll be happy to have you as one of our collaborators. Let us know by sending us an email or visiting our Facebook page.

[1] Rosenberg, Gary. The Encyclopedia of Seashells. 1993. Michael Friedman Publishing Group, Inc., pp. 1–224.

[2] Queen Conch Aquaculture. “Queen Conch Aquaculture.” Queen Conch Lab, FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, https://conchaquaculture.org/.

[3] Theile, Stephanie. Queen conch fisheries and their management in the Caribbean. Brussels: TRAFFIC Europe, 2001.

[4] Davis, Megan. “Saving the Queen of the Sea: Queen Conch Conservation Aquaculture.” Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum Online Lecture Series. 30 Sept. 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaA_5aPyG40

[5] Appeldoorn, Richard S. “Queen conch management and research: status, needs and priorities.” Strombus gigas Queen Conch Biology, Fisheries and Mariculture. Fundación Científica Los Roques, Caracas, Venezuela (1994): 301–319.

[6] Chan, Isani, et al. “Population and growth of queen conch (Lobatus gigas Linnaeus, 1758) in the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve of Belize.” Zoological Studies 52.1 (2013): 1–8.

[7] Kough, Andrew S., et al. “Efficacy of an established marine protected area at sustaining a queen conch Lobatus gigas population during three decades of monitoring.” Marine Ecology Progress Series 573 (2017): 177–189.

[8] Tewfik, Alexander, et al. “Declining size of adults and juvenile harvest threatens sustainability of a tropical gastropod, Lobatus gigas, fishery.” Aquatic conservation: Marine and freshwater ecosystems 29.10 (2019): 1587–1607.

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SeaLifeBase is a global database which follows the highly successful FishBase model, providing key biological traits for all non-fish marine organisms

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SeaLifeBase is a global database which follows the highly successful FishBase model, providing key biological traits for all non-fish marine organisms