Conch (pronounced ‘konk’) is a type of edible marine snail popular through the Caribbean, especially in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Conch tastes similar to clams, although it is a lot more ‘rubbery’ with a more defined texture.
Conch is an important symbol of the Turks and Caicos, being one of three symbols on our flag (the other two being a spiny lobster and a Turk's Head cactus).
The most popular type of conch in the Turks and Caicos is the Queen Conch (Lobatus gigas). Conchs take about 3-5 years to mature and be ready for consumption. They are scavengers, which mean they scour the sea floor for food, eating mostly carrion and other scraps.
Conchs are becoming endangered due to overfishing. Providenciales is home to the world’s only Conch Farm (open for visitors), which supplies conch for the entire country and also for export.
Queen Conchs produce beautiful shells. Unfortunately, to remove the animal from the shell fishermen routinely crack the top of the shell to break the seal the animal creates and thus be able to pull it from the shell. This ultimately damages the aesthetic value of the shell.
Early settlers to the Turks and Caicos would grind and burn the shells to create plaster and stucco for their walls. More recently, a local entrepreneur uses broken conch shells to create bathroom and kitchen countertops.
Due to the extremely hard nature of the shells, broken shells have been used to line the tops of walls to prevent people climbing over, much like with broken glass.
Conch pearls are rare, but do occur. They form in much the same way as a clam pearl.
It is illegal to export conch shells from the Turks and Caicos, and also illegal to import them into many countries, including the United States and United Kingdom. Interestingly, conch shells are the 9th most confiscated item by UK Customs and Border Protection.
Conch is an integral part of local cuisine in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The two most popular dishes, conch fritters and conch salad, are a relatively recent culinary event, but have nonetheless become a staple of local cuisine. A few local restaurants, including Da Conch Shack in Blue Hills, let you snorkel and catch your own conch. They’ll then clean, prepare and cook it for your lunch or dinner.
See our Cuisine of the Turks and Caicos Islands article for more information.
A local conch festival is held annually, which involves a lot of conch cuisine. It’s a full day event that’s perfect for families and it takes place right on the beach, usually in the Blue Hills area.