We were thrilled to gather our Land Crab research team recently for what we hope is the first of many Crab Fests, complete with lessons on the social history, ecological impact and cultural significance of the land crab fishery in The Bahamas. 

Land crabs are harvested in a wide scale artisanal fishery in The Bahamas and stimulate the economies on family islands like Eleuthera. These cryptic crustaceans are found in coppice forests and can be caught at night when they come out to feed. With some of the largest expanses of old growth forests on the island, South Eleuthera is a hotspot for the harvest, drawing crabbers from as far away as Spanish Wells and Upper Bogue. However, despite their role in providing food security and economic opportunity, little in the way of formal research has been conducted on species like the black land crab Gecarcinus ruricola.

Land crab research at CEI began in 2017 led by Dr. Iain McGaw of (@Memorial University Ocean Science Department) and has continued into its second phase by PhD student Bill Bigelow. Bill’s interest in land crabs stems from the current lack of data on these animals, and the specific habitat requirements they need to survive and thrive. Though seemingly plentiful now, there are concerns that populations may be in decline for reasons such as habitat destruction, invasive species predation, and climate change.

To hear more about the crabs, we were fortunate to welcome long time former staff member, and Deep Creek community member, Mooch Munnings to campus to help us understand the significant historical and cultural importance of land crabs to The Bahamas. A dynamic personality and skilled chef, Mooch shared her own experience with the students of growing up on Eleuthera, crabbing, and cooking. Students learned how to cook the local dish crab and rice, and then of course enjoyed a meal together!

When asked why organize an event like this, Bill said “We all have something to learn from each other. While learning more about the ecology of these animals is crucial for their conservation, really understanding the importance of the fishery in the community context is equally as important. Events like Crab Fest are a great way to better grasp the significance of these animals from the stakeholder perspective.” As part of his project, Bill would like to conduct interviews with crab harvesters on Eleuthera in an effort to document the fishery, identify potential threats, and highlight needs for future research that will best support the continued harvest of land crabs in The Bahamas.