Buying, Collecting and Exporting Conchs, Shells and Corals

Conch shells for sale at the Caicos Conch Farm gift shop.

We recommend that you exercise caution when purchasing conch shells, conch jewellery or other conch souvenirs. Before November 18 2013, permit were required to export any conch products and permits were only issued during the conch open season. We have received several complaints from tourists who have purchased shells from local shops only to have them seized at the Providenciales International Airport (PLS).

However, this law is currently being changed to allow export year-round. We will update this page once the law has been changed.

The Queen Conch (strombus giga) creates a beautiful shell that many tourists wish to have as a souvenir of their visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Other species of conch and other shells and corals can be found on our beaches and for sale in shops.

However, you must be aware of the export (and import restrictions in your home country) restrictions regarding products (including souvenirs) derived from this animal. It is illegal to export conch outside of the open season (usually 15 July to 15 October) and during the open season a permit is required for more than 3 shells (even for shells and products purchased in shops). It is not clear how conch products, such as jewellery, relate to the 3 shells rule.

Endangered Status of Conch

The Caribbean, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, has suffered from the overfishing of this animal, and the Queen Conch is now protected under the international CITES Treaty. As such, the exportation of the animal, shell, or souvenirs derived from the shell (such as jewellery and cups), requires a permit.

This animal has been listed in the CITES (Appendix II) treaty since 1992, but for many years enforcement of the law was lax and it was possible to purchase (or collect) the shells and export them without issue. However, enforcement has become strict and any conchs found during a customs inspection when leaving the Turks and Caicos Islands will be confiscated. This includes all other conch souvenirs, such as cups, mugs, pearls, and shells purchased at a shop with a valid receipt.

We are unaware of any prosecutions of persons attempting to export conch shells without a permit; action taken is simply confiscation of the restricted goods.

Buying Conchs, Shells and Corals

Many shops sell conch shells and conch souvenirs. You require a permit if you wish to export more than 3 conch shells (and derivatives), even if purchased in a shop.

If you have more than 3 conch shells (or other conch souvenirs) and they are discovered during the security check or customs inspection upon departure, they will be confiscated unless you provide a valid permit. No refunds will be given.

Collecting Conchs, Shells and Corals

It is a criminal offence to take shells or coral from any National Park, which can cover much of the coastline in the country, especially on Providenciales where all of Grace Bay is a National Park. See our Providenciales National Parks page for a map.

Obtaining Permits and Exporting Conch Shells and Conch-derived souvenirs

To export more than 3 conchs and other certain shells, you can obtain a permit by visiting the Department for Maritime Affairs on Providenciales. It is not possible to obtain permits online. Free permits are granted for tourists to take up to 3 conch shells out of the country during conch open season (usually 16 October to 14 July). During closed season (usually 15 July to 15 October) no conch shells can be exported, and permits will not be granted. Other shells require a permit which varies depending on quantity and species.

Coral

Coral of any sort cannot be legally taken from the country, and permits will not be granted.

Last reviewed by an editor on 20 November 2013.
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