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A Journey Into Paradise

The Riviera Maya’s Queen Sea Conch

11 December, 2013

As one of the most ancient instruments in the world,the Queen Conch shell was widely used as a trumpet by the ancient Maya,who called it atecocolli,or quetzaltecciztli. It produces a sound like no other,trumpeting a tune that is both low and deep,slowly reaching out across the landscape,much like the sea itself.

The Queen Conch shell was used by the Maya in religious ceremonies and enjoyed a prominent place in their culture,thanks in part to the haunting sound it produces,but also because of the symbolism it provides. The Queen Conch shell was revered as a representative of water,which was a vital and sacred resource to the Mayans.

In scientific terms,the Queen Conch is actually a gastropod or marine snail,which is easily spotted thanks to its brightly colored shell,which typically features a bright pink “lip.” Formed by the buildup of calcium carbonate,the substantial shell is generally orange,pink or yellow on the inside and can reach up to 12 inches in length and weigh up to five pounds. Although the shell will continue to thicken throughout the Conch’s entire lifespan,the Queen Conch reaches maturity at between three and five years of age,at which time it begins to form the “lip” at the opening of the shell that is characteristic of this species.

This fascinating creature can live to be upwards of 30 years old and calls the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea its home. Although professional divers have found the Queen Conch at depths of 500 feet or more,they generally prefer to live at depths ranging from 1 to 70 feet,making them easy to spot for the average diver. Typically found on sand flats amid turtle and manatee grass,these slow-moving marine snails are known to wander up to a mile in just a few months,or more than 700 yards in just one week! To gain mobility,the Conch must thrust its considerable “foot” against the sandy ocean floor,which causes it to rise and be propelled forward.

Today,the Queen Conch is endangered in many areas due to over-fishing. Not only is their meat considered a staple throughout the Caribbean region,but their shells are popular around the world for their considerable beauty. Couple this with the fact that they are prone to living in shallow waters and it is easy to see why they have been easily exploited. To ensure that the Queen Conch continues to be a part of the Costa Maya region,please refrain from collecting them in the wild. Opt to take a picture instead,which will last much longer!