Before you even set foot on the tropical island of Providenciales—or any island in the Caribbean, really—there’s one thing you absolutely need to know.
Conch, the sea snail that’s found on local menus everywhere, is pronounced “konk,” not “konch.”
Fight the urge to pronounce that “ch” sound. It’s a newbie mistake, and you’re a far more seasoned traveller than that.
But quirky pronunciation is just one tiny aspect of this species. To delve deeper into the world of conch, head straight to the Caicos Conch Farm.
Learn about Conch
Throughout the warm waters of the Atlantic and the Caribbean, there’s a popular breed of conch—the Queen, or pink-lipped—from Florida all the way to Brazil. When it comes to popular edible snails, conch is only trumped by France’s escargots in popularity.
While visiting Turks and Caicos, you’ll see conch on just about every menu, prepared in a slew of different ways:
• cracked conch
• conch salad
• conch burger
• conch chowder
• conch fritters
Located on the eastern end of Providenciales, the Conch Farm is isolated from the tourist-heavy strip of Grace Bay Beach. The sign at the foot of the dusty dirt road is non-descript, so much so you might miss it if you’re not really paying attention.
Originally built as a research facility, the Conch Farm produces conch commercially—the only site of its kind in the world.
Eco-Tourism at its Finest
The Conch Farm was created out of environmental necessity. Conch is a popular ingredient in American states such as Florida, but due to overfishing, the species became endangered. Harvesting conch from Florida waters was made illegal in 1985.
Caribbean islands such as the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos now supply the U.S. all of its conch. But just as in Florida, the conch supply surrounding Providenciales was dwindling, so Chuck Hesse, an American and resident of Turks and Caicos, created the Conch Farm.
The mission: Help provide jobs, stimulate the economy, supply a low-cost source of protein, and protect wild conch stocks from exploitation.
Hesse developed patented technology to raise conch in the 10-acre plant, which also has 260 fenced-off acres of underwater pasture.
Here, conch are raised from eggs to young adults, housed in buildings that look like greenhouses, and are then moved to holding ponds and pens in the subsea pasture.
Once fully grown, the conch are shipped to Florida and distributed to various restaurants (the Caicos Conch Farm doesn’t compete with local fishermen).
What to Expect
A friendly Turks local will guide you through the life cycle of a conch. You’ll see the different breeding basins, including the hatchery and the labs, wherein a half a million conch are produced each year.
Much like the site itself, the 30-minute-or-so walking tour of the Conch Farm is fairly modest. But the passion Conch Farm staffers have for the cause is strong, and you’ll feel it as you learn the nuances of a conch’s life, which can last up to 20 years.
Kids will love the tour’s finale, when the group visits Sally and Jerry—two trained 6-year-old full-grown conch. Your guide will coax the critters out of the shells so that you can see the conch bodies up close, as well as the distinguishing features between the male and female.
A small gift shop that’s onsite sells rare conch pearls, shell jewelry and t-shirts.
The Final Say
I’ll be honest—it was a struggle to tear myself away from the talcum-powder sands of Grace Bay Beach. But I found Caicos Conch Farm interesting and enlightening. An excursion to the farm is definitely worthwhile.
If only so that when you dig into your next conch dish on the island—whether it’s cracked conch from the iconic Da Conch Shack or conch two ways from Coco Bistro—you’ll understand not just what you’re eating, but how it got on your plate in the first place.
Admission to the Caicos Conch Farm is $10 for adults, $5 for children and $8 per person if you come with a group of eight adults or more.
Conch in Turks and Caicos
It doesn't take long to figure out conch's significance in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. The native sea snail—think a slightly tougher version of squid—is on just about every restaurant's menu in some way, shape or form.
Three days into my five-day stay in Turks and Caicos, I had already sampled conch (pronounced "conk") a handful of ways. But I wanted more.