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Anegada Love & Lobster

In 2022 The Anegada Lobster Festival celebrates its 10-year Anniversary and we find out how it grew from small beginnings to a major Caribbean gastronomic event that supports the whole community

In 2011, it was West End boat captain Bradshawe Browne, a frequent visitor to Anegada, who originally conceived the idea for The Anegada Lobster Festival. Of course, boat captains though skilled at what they do, aren’t always the savviest marketers. It was only after the fledgling idea was casually raised with Rhodni Skelton, now Deputy Director of Tourism at the BVI Tourist Board, that it came to fruition.

Every other sister island had their niche annual events and Rhodni thought it was Anegada’s turn. “I love that Anegada was still untouched, but that was the only selling point we had to promote to visitors,” said Rhodni. In 2012, once the Tourist Board gave the green light for the event, Rhodni supported by his dedicated team, Kaletha Henry and Kyle Harrigan began holding meetings with the Anegada community to get things off the ground.

There were a few hurdles to get over – the first being how to transport guests to the island and get them around. The vision was to promote the whole island, with guests driving around they could experience the open roads, salty breeze and unique, picturesque scenery with hints of unspoiled and deserted white sand beaches along the way. But this had never been done before and the logistics were frightening to Anegada’s few tourism operators.

At 15-square miles and a population of just 300 residents, Anegada is the second-largest sister island and transporting visitors to every restaurant, from one end of the island to the other seemed impossible, but the team were unwavering.

The first year everybody pulled together to make the event a success. Rhodni and Kyle drove around Anegada hammering poles into limestone, intent on erecting signage to keep the guests from getting lost down dusty back roads. They hadn’t anticipated the hard, dry earth and were relieved when locals came forth with their power tools to get the job done.

Those who made the journey to experience the inaugural Anegada Lobster Festival didn’t regret it …and none of them got lost! “It wasn’t a bad turnout with around 400 attendees”, said Rhodni. So he asked the Anegadians to give him and his team one more year to grow the event.

Lawrence Wheatley, owner of Anegada Reef Hotel knew the Festival was a great idea from the start. “It just fitted into what we already do on a daily basis, which is sell lobster. I knew it had potential to grow and become what it is today.” In time, Lawrence said, the restaurateurs realised that to transport all of their equipment to a central place while trying to cook for hundreds of lobster-loving visitors might be even more difficult. The following year, ferries and small planes from neighbouring islands helped zoom in over 1,600 people intent on snapping up as many of the tasty arthropods as they could and the culinary adventure never looked back. Events over the next 10-years averaged over 3,000 attendees.

Anegada love

The Festival both is and isn’t about lobster. Ultimately, it’s about sharing the unique gifts and authenticity of Anegada, the BVI’s most sparsely populated sister island, with the world. The growth and development of Anegada over the course of a decade has been exponential – going from a sleepy, close-knit fishing community to an absolute must-see destination with a buzz that is contagious.

Investments have come in with new Hotels and Restaurants opening, but Rhodni credits the whole Anegada community for trusting in the culinary island adventure idea. Two of the event’s early supporters were central to the event becoming what it is today – Lauren Wheatley and the late Aubrey Levons, owner of Big Bamboo Beach Bar & Restaurant. Aubrey, a born and bred Anagadian and his wife Diane started their bar at Loblolly Bay 35-years ago. Diane remembers they had no idea how large the event would become, but “it has created loyalty to Anegada and put us on the map” she says.

For Potter from Potter’s By the Sea, the Festival is something that he always looks forward to. “It’s meeting all the new people each year that I really love”, he says. His authentic seaside location has been proudly serving guests for 25-years. Many have fallen in love with Anegada and are choosing to venture further afield to see more of what the island’s natural beauty and rich culture has to offer – from the flamingo flock to the Faulkner House Museum, the ancient conch mounds or the iguana nursery.

Overcoming the challenges

Anegadians have seen their economy grow, even after devastating hurricanes and a pandemic have struck over the last five years. Throughout, The Festival has proved itself as one of the BVI’s most dependable and durable events.

The November 2017 Lobster Festival was one of the first events to take place in the wake of the monster storms of that year and played a major role in welcoming back visitors, while sending a message to the rest of the world that the BVI was open for business.

Although business owners feared no one would want to come back to the storm-ravaged Territory, The Festival managed to attract 1,500 people that year. Many vendors didn’t order enough lobster for the crowds. Just as normalcy seemed to be dawning, the pandemic dealt another blow, but The Festival defied all expectations by making an incredible comeback last year, with hotel rooms booked months in advance.

It was a welcome sight after a hard few years for an island whose economy has become almost entirely dependent on tourism. Restaurants, as always, took the opportunity to outdo one another with their creativity. The spiny crustaceans showed up in every concoction imaginable: curried lobster, jerk lobster, lobster beignets, lobster fritters and lobster quesadilla. For dessert? Lobster ice cream, of course.

Sustainable Lobster

Of course, there is no Anegada Lobster Festival without the spiny lobster and even though The Festival consumes upwards of 20,000 pounds of the creatures every year, the BVI Tourist Board are acutely aware of the vulnerability of the breeding population and how important it is to preserve it.

Fishermen are careful to throw back any small lobsters or those with eggs attached, explains Rhodni. In recent years, local lobster farmer Giles Cadman has become involved. “Giles, along with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries provides guidance on sustainability of the lobsters and emphasises why we have a lobster season that runs from October 31 to July 31 each year, to give the lobsters a period of time to breed and grow from tiny jelly-like creatures to full crustaceans,” says Rhodni.

In the future, he said, green initiatives such as recycling and the use of eco food boxes instead of plastic are set to continue and expand. A portion of the proceeds from the event also goes to scholarships for tourism students to grow the industry in the BVI.

This year’s event

In recent years, Rhodni, one of the original architects of the event, has stepped back somewhat from the planning, handing it over to Carnel Clyne aka “King Claws” to spearhead the management of the event. He’s confidently stepped up to the task.

“The lobsters will be sizzling on the barbecue and we always have a great party here”, says Lawrence. So make sure to add November 25 to 27 for this year’s 10th Anniversary Anegada Lobster Festival to your calendar, part of the wider annual BVI Food Fete 2022.

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