(Conch) Pirates of the Caribbean: Quantifying Illegal Harvests of Queen Conch in Two of Belize's Marine Protected Areas

Authors: Jordan R. Cissell*, University of Alabama, Michael K. Steinberg, University of Alabama
Topics: Marine and Coastal Resources, Human-Environment Geography, Latin America
Keywords: queen conch, Lobatus gigas, Belize, marine protected area, conservation, poaching
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Belize’s commercial queen conch (Lobatus gigas) fishery has been officially recognized as overexploited since 1994. The nation’s marine protected areas (MPAs) are designed in part to protect queen conch aggregations within designated no-take areas from exploitation, in hopes that population growth within reserve boundaries will spillover and replenish commercial fisheries outside reserve boundaries. Enforcement resources for MPAs are limited, and it is common knowledge that conch poaching occurs within the no-take zones. However, no previous study has empirically quantified illegal conch harvests within Belize’s MPAs. We address this knowledge gap with this ongoing project, drawing upon transect surveys of conch aggregations in Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve and South Water Caye Marine Reserve to document illegal conch harvests within the two MPAs. Furthermore, we use statistical analyses to evaluate the influence of water depth and law enforcement presence on poaching prevalence, and to assess whether conch of a certain maturity level or within one of the two MPAs have been disproportionately affected by poaching activity. Not only do our preliminary results represent a first step toward quantifying illegal conch harvests in Belize’s MPAs, but they also provide insights into poaching activity that will help MPA managers prioritize their limited enforcement resources.

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