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HomeNewsLocal newsClaude O. Markoe Students Learn About the Queen Conch

Claude O. Markoe Students Learn About the Queen Conch

The third grade students from Claude O. Markoe Elementary School had the opportunity Thursday to blow the conch horn and learn local laws on how to protect and harvest queen conch, a beautiful pink-shelled mollusk.

The field trip to Fort Frederik for the 40 students also included a viewing of the Seashell Art Show and the St. Croix Seashell Society seashell exhibit in the fort.

Wilfred Elisha Allick Jr., better known locally as Junie Bomba, told the history and significance of the conch horn to the students who assembled outdoors.

Allick is from a family of local Crucian sailors. He is in his 60s and said he began sailing when he was 7 years old.

For sailors and fishermen, the conch has always been a valued food source, said Allick, who has also become known for his work as a conch sculpture artist and seashell jeweler.

Allick said the queen conch was first used by island people before telephones to send distant messages, such as a spreading fire or an approaching storm. He said it was used during the fire burn and the emancipation of the enslaved Africans. Allick added the sound travels a half mile.

To make the horn the conch shell has the pointed end cut off and the hole where the meat was taken out is filled with putty. The smaller the shell, the higher the pitch, he said. The air blown in gets hurled around like a funnel.

"I’ve been blowing the horn since my papa days," Allick said, meaning his father taught him when he was little. Allick, a skilled musician, said he generally blows the conch horn announcing the opening of local cultural and historical events.

Allick also gave details on the work it takes to clean algae off and prepare a conch for use.

Nyarah McMillan, 8, said the whole experience at the fort was fun and interesting.

“It was awesome learning how to blow the conch horn,” McMillan said. “I was happy I got it right. It was funny when I felt my mouth vibrate.”

Edward Brown, guidance counselor at Claude O. Markoe, said the students were very interested in the topic of shells.

“They all stayed alert, paid attention and asked intelligent questions,” Brown said. “This was a wonderful opportunity for the students to learn about shells.”

Elizabeth “Betz” Robb, one of the founders of the St. Croix Seashell Society, said they highlighted the local laws about shell collection so the younger generation knows what we must do to preserve and foster the conch as a treasured local resource for food, communication, art and music.

She told the youth about the legal catch size of conch measuring nine inches from tip to tip and the thickness of the shell. And she added conch can be harvested October through May.

The students checked out the local and foreign shells on display in glass cases and original paintings focused on shells by Leo Carty, Betsey Campen, Leslie Rickenbach and others.

The children divided into teams and scurried around the displays with excitement, finding answers to clues for a treasure hunt that Robb organized from the information in the workshop.

“The students love the competition of the treasure hunt,” Robb said. “There was so much enthusiasm and excitement and they said they want to come back.” She said the key reason they offered the workshop is for students to learn to protect the fisheries and the environment. Robb said they hope to do more workshops for the students.

The workshop was hosted by the St. Croix Seashell Society, funded in part by the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts, and a project of the St. Croix Foundation. For more information about the Seashell Society send an email to stcroixseashellsociety@gmail.com.

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