The Island School’s Cape Eleuthera Institute (CEI) is thrilled to introduce a crawfish aquaculture program designed to restock wild populations and pioneer the rearing of crawfish to marketable size. 

This breakthrough initiative undertaken by Bahamian PhD student Michael Bowleg and researcher Denee Rankine aspires to revolutionize the industry and make it accessible to more Bahamians through its innovative use of sustainable fibers locally harvested and handcrafted by Bahamians. 

Michael Bowleg, Nick Higgs, and Robert Ellis picture with local fishermen

“Our project is not just about sustainable lobster farming; it’s about creating a new way of doing aquaculture that benefits the environment, empowers local communities, and fosters innovation,” said Dr Nicholas Higgs, Director at Cape Eleuthera Institute. 

“A key component of the project involves collaborating with local artisans who utilize locally sourced materials to build equipment for collecting early-stage crawfish. Local fishers will use this equipment to collect and harvest the seed stock, which CEI will purchase for grow-out in our nursery before returning them to the wild. 

Higgs said: “This multi-stage aquaculture model not only enhances capacity and job opportunities but also ensures the sustainability of one of The Bahamas’ most profitable fisheries, fostering equitable blue growth across local communities.” 

As the research and innovation hub of The Island School, CEI stands at the forefront of global efforts to create a sustainable future for the planet. The project is led by Dr Robert Ellis, an aquaculture researcher from the University of Exeter, and collaborates with experts from The National Lobster Hatchery in the UK. It won support from the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Ocean Innovation Challenge, as one of nine projects fostering sustainable fisheries and the Blue Economy that were selected to undergo UNDP’s global incubator and receive financial support. It’s also a part of a broader program that has received generous support from the Disney Conservation Fund and the Builders Initiative. 

Robert Ellis (Left) and Michael Bowleg (Right)

Bahamian PhD student Michael Bowleg said: “The development of crawfish aquaculture plays a crucial role in supporting the fishery’s long-term management and longevity. With documented stock-related declines being experienced across the region, aquaculture feasibility and research initiatives, core components of this project, provide an opportunity for conservation, community empowerment, and alternative livelihood development to go hand in hand. 

Bowleg added: “Projects such as this present a compelling solution for Small Island Developing States like The Bahamas to navigate the challenges of climate change, food security, and overfishing, countering commercial development.”

CEI is also thrilled to formalize its partnership with the Bahamas Agriculture Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) with the signing of a memorandum of understanding that will see the project replicated in Andros and other satellite locations throughout The Bahamas. 

BAMSI Executive Chairman and Senator Tyrel Young said: “We live off the ocean here in The Bahamas, and it’s critical Bahamians are aware now and understand the importance of us being resilient, and being more careful of how we treat our ocean and the species in our ocean. 

“Yes, we do like conch, we do like grouper, we do like crawfish. But we have to preserve it, we have to do it in a manner where it is sustainable. And this is a project that definitely is about sustainability. 

Denee Rankine (Left) with Semester students.

Young said: “BAMSI is opening up a Marine Research Division in Long Island in the very near future and this project definitely will be a part of that research center. It’s a perfect center for this project. So I feel as though this is the most timely project, to kickstart that institution. They are in Long Island, and we will also be doing the project simultaneously in North Andros at our BAMSI campus. So moving forward, this project I think will definitely grow and it will be a catalyst for many entrepreneurs.” 

With many fisheries around the world facing overfishing or operating at their maximum sustainable yield, it is crucial to develop innovative strategies for sustainable management of wild populations to ensure the long-term health and sustainability of these vital resources for generations to come. This initiative is especially significant as the Caribbean Spiny Lobster fishery has earned MSC certification for its sustainable management practices. 

Peter Bryant, Program Director for Builders Initiative which is funding aspects of the project, said: “This is perfect for us because our foundation focuses on sustainable fisheries and restorative aquaculture, and restorative aquaculture. It takes many forms, but one of the forms it can take is helping to supplement or replenish through grow out when they’re most vulnerable, early stages of life in aquaculture tanks on land, and then, help put them back in the wild. So, it’s like a perfect match.” 

Bowleg at CEI showing local middle schoolers lobster condos.

The significant expertise from international partners on this project will also create new genetic tools for stock assessment as well as trial innovative grow-out techniques developed and utilized by other lobster growing facilities worldwide. 

Higgs said: “The promise of this initiative is that it can spur allied, relevant industries as well, not just across spiny lobster farming but in other sectors. It’s all about creating an economic ecosystem that allows for wider participation and innovation.” 

“We want to share this knowledge with people, other people who are doing this, whether privately funded or proprietary. We want to share with everybody what works, what doesn’t work, and whoever wants to do it could take this up,” he added.

Stay tuned for updates on this exciting initiative that promises to reshape the aquaculture landscape in The Bahamas. For media inquiries and additional information, please contact: 

Laura Dougherty 
Director of Marketing & Communications  
Office: 242.334.8551 
Cell: 242.828.3425 

About The Island School: 

The Island School offers a transformative educational experience in the heart of Eleuthera, emphasizing conservation and sustainability. We provide high school and middle school programs, an elementary learning center, and the Cape Eleuthera Institute. 

About Cape Eleuthera Institute: 

CEI serves as The Island School’s hub for research and innovation. Located on The Island School campus on Cape Eleuthera, CEI fosters connections between people and the environment, aiming for a more sustainable future. We support research, engage students in hands-on projects, and raise environmental awareness in local and global communities.