Conch, Conch, and more Conch!

February 15, 2020

This will be the welcoming cry to all visitors to Union Island, St. Vincent’s southernmost Grenadine island, from Friday, February 28 to Sunday, March 1. On these three days the island will feature its first-ever Conch Festival, a celebration of everything conch.

Clifton, Union’s main town – the hub of the Conch Festival activities on Feb. 29

Most of us recognize very easily the protective outer shell of the conch, the pearly-pink covering that spirals inward on one side and splays outward with perfectly uneven edges on the other. Its colours drift lazily in hologram fashion from soft white-pearl to shimmering silver to striking pink towards the interior, where one can find the “meat” of the same name. In rare cases, a pearl may even be found inside. It is commonly a symbol of the sea, but for Union Islanders, it is much more than just a beautiful marine creature. For years, conch has played a vital role in the island’s economy, with local fishermen harvesting, exporting, and providing it to the island’s very own restaurants.

“Knocking” a hole in a conch shell through which the meat inside will be extracted

And so, during this first-ever Conch Festival, Union Island invites you to come and discover all that this sea mollusc has to offer. Local chefs will offer conch dishes of every variety, including conch water, stew, pasta, pelau, salad, chowder, fritters, curry, and grilled conch, and will compete for prizes for best dish in different categories. There will be several other competitions, including conch blowing, conch chopping and conch/dumpling eating contests for spectators to participate in.

In the past, a conch shell would be blown to signal to villagers that fresh seafood and meat were available for sale

Apart from eating and competing, visitors will be educated about the importance of conch to Union’s economy through various information displays. The displays will offer insight into the role of conch in the island’s ecosystem as well as raise awareness about the legal size for harvesting conch. Arts, crafts and other seafood such as fish and lobster will be available for sale and the event will be rounded out with cultural performances by local artists at the idyllic Sparrow’s Beach Club on the island’s north side. One final must for everyone is a visit to Happy Island, a private islet located just south of Union and made entirely of discarded conch shells!

An overhead view of Happy Island

The Conch Festival is the first of many events organized by Union Island‘s tourism board to revive the island’s tourism economy. The board envisions the festival evolving into an international culinary event that will support its community-based tourism initiative. For more information, contact the Union Island Tourism Board at (784) 458-8350 or [email protected].

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