Admiring his conch stall, laden with pink shells at the front of his home, West Bay resident Isen Powery, is all smiles.
The 61-year-old fisherman’s lifelong dream of finding an “albino,” or white milk conch, has finally come true.
Finding the white shell ended a search that spanned 53 years of Mr. Powery’s life, a search he said started when he was 10 years old after his grandfather Andrew Powery first told him about the white conch.
“Fifty-three years ago my grandfather was showing my father, cousin Ricky Smith and me a turtle nest, and by that nest was a white conch shell. I asked grandfather why that one was white and the others were so pink. He said that one had faded from exposure to the sun,” said Mr. Powery.
“But he also said that when he was a boy, his father told him that there was a conch so rare it was called the ‘albino’ conch, which a man told him was a milk conch. He told me if he ever found one, never to get rid of it because I would never find another in my lifetime.”
Mr. Powery said he found the shell in an area off Barkers Key, West Bay, two weeks ago while on a diving excursion with friend Dennis Ebanks.
“My buddy just handed me the conch from the water with the white part exposed. When I saw the face of the conch, I knew that 53 years of hunting was over,” he said.
When Mr. Powery extracted the meat from the shell, the only difference he noticed was that it had one large eye and one small eye, and when it was cooked in coconut milk, he said it tasted just like any other conch – “really good.”
The shell of the white conch measures about 7.5 inches long and weighs about 2.5 pounds.
Searching for more information on his find, Mr. Powery went as far as asking local people up to 90 years of age if they had ever seen a white conch shell. Some said no, and others said they had not even heard of one.
“My grandfather’s words and my dream have come true. I really did, I finally found the white conch … I called my friend Andre Jackson and told him I had found the real McCoy,” said Mr. Powery, still riding high on the excitement of his find.
A collector and seller of pink conch shells, Mr. Powery took up selling shells in 1984 after he had a stroke and could no longer work for Cable & Wireless. He was one of the first people in the district to come up with the idea of selling “konk” to visitors in 1984, he said.
Mr. Powery is willing to sell the shell but does not want to see the shell leave the Cayman Islands. He has already sent a photograph of the shell to friends in Colorado and Switzerland.
“I want to see it fall into government’s hands, and a photograph of the shell be placed on either of our currency bills, a postage stamp, a Tourism Department logo, at the museum or on display for all to see in years to come,” said Mr. Powery.
With a passion for local heritage, Mr. Powery claims his desire in life is to preserve as much of Cayman’s history, heritage and traditions as he can for future generations.
He intends to mount the shell on a special piece of old mahogany, which he said he has had in his collection for many years.
According to the FloridaKeys.com website, white conch are quite plentiful in the Florida Keys. Susie Mills, owner of the website, says she sees them in the Florida Keys backcountry. They live at the edge of turtle grass and in nearby sand.
She said milk conch get its name from the iridescent white color on the inside of the shell that is particularly radiant in the sunlight.