CONCH BLOWINGKEY WEST, Florida Keys — Luckily for most competitors in Key West’s 49th annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest, they don’t have to be stellar musicians to test their pucker power in the quirky challenge.

Set for noon Saturday, March 5, the contest instead draws people eager to share in a Key West tradition by attempting to make music using a fluted, pink-lined conch shell. The shell of the sturdy sea mollusk is a symbol of the Florida Keys, often called the Conch Republic.

Entrants are to squawk, honk and possibly even produce tuneful tones during the offbeat event, slated to take place in the tropical garden of Key West’s Oldest House, 322 Duval St.

CONCH BLOWINGAs in the past, the fun-filled “conch honk” is free to enter and watch.

Sponsored by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, the competition salutes the historic importance of the conch in the Florida Keys. Centuries ago, natives from the Calusa tribe blew conch shells to communicate over distance, and sailors used them as maritime signaling devices.

The event typically attracts entrants ranging from toddlers to seniors. Judges evaluate the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds they make, with trophies and ribbons awaiting winners in several categories.

While most “conch honkers” only manage blasts or bleats, a few past standouts have produced melodies as complex as “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

Contestants can register at the Oldest House from 10:30 a.m. to noon March 5, or at the event itself if space is still available. Those lacking their own “instruments” can purchase conch shells onsite.

Event information: www.oirf.org or 305-294-950

Key West visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY

Social: www.facebook.com/floridakeysandkeywesttwitter.com/thefloridakeys

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