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Queen Conch Republic

by Shayne Benowitz

Key West Conch Captain Westy and the conch

Today, during the afternoon snorkel trip, crewmember Kyle made an exceptional discovery. Creeping slowly along the ocean floor with its claw and strong foot, armed with a heavy spiraling pink and cream shell for protection, Kyle spotted a beautiful queen conch.

The conch (pronounced CONK) was once quite abundant in Key West’s waters and became the namesake of our little island nation, the Conch Republic. The image of a conch shell is emblazoned on flags all over town. Today, conch is an endangered and protected species in Florida due to over-fishing for the tender, sweet meat and the beautiful shell. It is not very common to see conch at the reef and this was the first time I had seen one in its natural habitat.

The conch that you see on menus in Key West is a farm-raised variety that allows the species to sustain. Most commonly, you will find conch fritters, stew, ceviche, and sushi at many restaurants in town.

Kyle handed the queen conch up to Captain Westy at the bow and he showed the passengers that inside the shell resided a small mollusk. Of course, Westy handled the creature delicately and returned it to the seafloor after a quick presentation to our guests. It’s very important that all snorkelers remember that we snorkel in a marine sanctuary and we must leave the reef and its many inhabitants just as we found them.

Shayne Benowitz is a Fury crewmember and freelance writer who is working on her debut novel. Shayne can be reached at sbbenowitz@gmail.com.

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