The black crab (Gecarcinus ruricola) is a terrestrial crustacean that lives in the dry tropical forests of the Colombian islands of Providencia and Santa Catalina. Separated only by a footbridge, in the year 2000 the two islands were declared part of the UNESCO “Seaflower Biosphere Reserve” in recognition of their natural, historic and social value.
The Providencia black crab has a black shell, around 8-9 cm across, and red legs with yellow markings. It uses its two large claws to defend itself against predators and to feed on fruits, mushrooms and other organic matter from the forest. Each year between April and June, the adult crabs descend from the mountains to the sea to mate and lay their eggs. Twenty days after hatching, the young crabs make their way back towards Providencia’s peak to continue their development in the dry forest under logs and rocks, or underground.
For Providencia’s Raizal population, descendants of African slaves and British sailors, the local economy revolves around tourism, traditional fishing and hunting native species like the black crab and caracoles, large sea snails belonging to the Strombidae family. The crabs are caught using manual methods by both the men and women, preferably at night when they come out in search of food, using a lantern or torches made from bottles. The large crabs are caught alive and kept in containers with high sides, to stop them escaping. The day after the hunt, the women process the crabs using handmade tools, working in the internal courtyards of their homes.
The women place the crabs into boiling water and then remove the shells to obtain the meat, which is consumed that day or frozen in containers for later sale. The claws are frozen in bags of 100 for future family use or to be sold.
The black crab has long been central to Raizal cuisine. It is eaten boiled or stewed, accompanied by rice, in empanadas or in rondón, a traditional dish that also contains meat and fish. But the most popular dish is black crab soup, which combines the crabmeat with garlic, pepper, dumpling, yams, sweet potato, coconut milk and aromatic herbs from Providencia.
The Presidium was created to ensure the preservation of a marine and coastal ecosystem and the survival of a species that represents an important source of income for the local population (Raizal). The project promotes local consumption of Black Crab, the commercialization of the meat and claws, and other derived products, as well as helping with the simultaneous promotion and advancement of other products from the territory.
Launched in 2014, as part of the project “Providencia Black Crab, Presidia of Raizal Culture” coordinated by the ACUA Foundation, today it is led by ASOCRAB (Providence Sweet Black Crab Association), which represents the community of black crab producers and and handlers on the island.
Providencia Black Crab Presidium is supported by IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) and the European Union, with the collaboration of several strategic local partners.
Providencia island, San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina archipelago, Colombia
70 Raizal families of crab harvesters, processors and merchants on Providencia island
Presidium supported by
European Union, Fundación ACUA, IFAD, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Colombia, Corporación Coralina