Amazing Field Research on Queen Conch at Xel Ha
XEL-HA, QUINTANA ROO; DECEMBER 2009.- Université de Bretagne Occidentale's (UBO) researchers from the Research and Advanced Studies Center (Cinevstav-IPN) Merida and Xel-Ha's park biologists carry out field research in the inlet of the Natural Wonder of Quintana Roo in order to identify different aspects about biology and behavior of the Queen Conch during its several stages of life.
This research, carried out for the first time in the Caribbean, is part of the protection and preservation of Queen Conch program (Strombus gigas) declared by the International Union for Nature's Conservation as a Commercially Threatened Species.
Project Coordinator, Dr. Dalila Aldana Aranda, who this year has been awarded with the Ecological Merit Prize thanks to her efforts during recent years toward preservation of the species, with this monitoring using specialized equipment, stated that the program is in a new stage, because of the value of the scientific information which can be obtained.
She said that "in situ experiments about Queen Conch will allow understanding of the functions of this organism: what it eats, when it eats, when it grows up, when it does not grow up, when it breathes and its dung."
The program will carry out works about telemetry with receptors and emitters, distributed around the inlet, and we are going to realize how organisms move in there —who enters, who leaves, and which organisms emit signals. Every organism will emit a unique signal," highlighted specialist Aldana Aranda.
She added that, "The program will carry out sclerochronology work, which consists of temperature and variation identification through records found on Queen Conch."
She also said the project has reached this stage thanks to the sponsorship of Sciences Mexican Academy, Occidental British College, CONACYT of Mexico and CNRS of France. "For inlet work, it has brought equipment valued at more than 2 million pesos. Equipment which afterwards will be used in France for chemical and physical analysis, will be nearly 4 million pesos and 300 thousand pesos by CONACYT, in addition to Xel-Ha park logistic support."
The natural park Xel-Ha is an exceptional place for Queen Conch studies, as Xel-Ha is an inlet of 14 water hectares formed as a result of the hydrogeological system of Quintana Roo which flows to the Caribbean Sea in this part of the Riviera Maya with a 70-meters edge. There are fresh and salt water ecosystems in Xel-Ha which makes the Queen Conch research more interesting, so here they inhabit freely and capture is prohibited, so Xel-Ha is a sanctuary for protection and preservation of Queen Conch.
PROTECTION AND CONSERVATION OF THE QUEEN CONCH
The Queen Conch (Strombus gigas) has been declared by the International Union for Nature's Conservation as a Commercially Threatened Species. In Mexico, they are located along the Yucatan and Quintana Roo coasts. Due to the decreasing population of the conch, by the '80s, queen conch fishing was banned in the Yucatan.
In Quintana Roo, there is a closed season from May to October, for individuals with a minimum capture size of 20 cm, and a 30 ton capture fee for Banco Chinchorro, and 12 tons for Cozumel, as well as a limited concessions issuing. However, the Queen Conch is overexploited and, in some areas, it has already vanished, for it has suffered an intense and illegal capture, and conch meat can be found in restaurants and markets throughout the year.
In order to resist this situation, an environmentally educative program is being held, to create consciousness in society about protection and rehabilitation of the species. Xel-Ha promotes the conservation of the Queen Conch, by protecting the adult reproducing population, and young individuals with good survival and growing rates, hence, it is considered a sanctuary for the Queen Conch.
Xel-Ha is also a training center for elementary and middle school teachers, enrolled in the Mesoamerican Reef Program, which sensitizes and brings up to date all teachers about this quandary, and therefore have them contribute, from their classrooms, to a greater awareness among young populations. The program is released in coordination with the Research and Advanced Studies Center.