Leadership Profile

What's Happening at Cedar Crest College

Studying the Queen Conch Pt. 1: A Student's Perspective

Cedar Crest College faculty and students have been undertaking a research project involving the sustainability of the Queen Conch in Belize for the last six years led by John Cigliano, associate professor of biology, and Rich Kliman, professor of biology. This is the first in a series of short articles written by Kenzie Bickhart, a senior biodiversity and conservation biology major, who participated in the research project earlier this month.

Kenzi Bickhart
Kenzie Bickhart in the Caribbean

A Guide to Belize

Belize is a country just south of Mexico on the Caribbean side. To the east of the mainland, the coast is lined by the Belize Barrier Reef. The Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve is located at the southern tip of the reef. The reserve has been set up for a few years but only last year had it transitioned from a paper park (the reserve was in place, but nothing was enforced) to having enforced regulations.

John CiglianoA huge industry in Belize revolved around the Queen Conch (Strombus gigas) but the fishermen have fished out most of the stock. In Belize, you can find shell middens. These are large piles of discarded shells that have been cleaned. Some of these middens predate the time of Christopher Columbus!

The Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve has been set up in hopes of protecting the conch enough to bring the numbers back up. It was not set up to ban all fishing, but to have seasons to allow for reproduction so the conch may replace themselves before they are removed. It was also set up with a size limit. This also ensures that the conch have a chance to reproduce and are not being removed from the system prior. Right now, the closed season is from July 1 to September 30 and the shell length must exceed 7 inches and the meat of the conch must be at least 3 oz.

I came down with Dr. Cigliano as my research involves the Queen Conch. Dr. Kliman, (senior biology student) Kaleigh Fernald, and six other teachers as part of the Earthwatch program also participated. This is a program that allows for teens, adults, or families to help scientists in the field.

For more information on Earthwatch and how you can get involved, visit http://www.earthwatch.org/.