The Mysterious Cat Island – Who Actually Owns This Feline Paradise?


Cat Island is located in the Bahamas archipelago in the central Bahamas. Despite its name, Cat Island does not actually have any feline inhabitants and is instead named for the notorious English pirate Arthur Catt. Its sovereignty has been disputed over the years, with control shifting between Spain, France, Britain, and the Bahamas after the island nation gained independence. Today, Cat Island is under the jurisdiction of the Bahamas, but its complex history of changing hands raises the question: which country officially owns Cat Island?

Location and Geography

Cat Island is located in the central Bahamas, about 225 miles southeast of Florida and 150 miles south-southwest of Nassau. It sits on the eastern edge of the Great Bahama Bank. With an area of 206 square miles, Cat Island is the 6th largest island in the Bahamas archipelago. It stretches roughly 50 miles long from north to south, and 4 miles wide at its widest point.

Cat Island has a rugged, hilly landscape with Mount Alvernia rising as the highest point at 206 feet above sea level. The island is surrounded by shallow turquoise waters and fringing coral reefs. To the west is the Exuma Sound, a deep oceanic trench, while the island’s eastern side faces the calmer waters of the shallow bank.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Cat Island’s rocky shoreline contains many inlets, bays, and coves, with some mangrove wetlands in the north. The interior is covered by pine and coppice vegetation. There are a few salt ponds inland as well.


Early History

According to Wikipedia, Cat Island is thought to be the site of the first landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World in 1492. Initially named San Salvador by Columbus, some historians believe Cat Island was actually the island Columbus named San Salvador and where he first came ashore. However, other historians contest this and believe San Salvador was a different island in the Bahamas.

The earliest known inhabitants of Cat Island were the Lucayan people, an indigenous group who lived throughout the Bahamas when Columbus arrived. The Lucayans were agriculturalists who grew crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, and maize. They were eventually wiped out by Spanish colonization and disease.

In the 17th century, Cat Island was settled by English Puritan colonists, likely the Eleutheran Adventurers led by William Sayle. These colonists farmed the island and lived peacefully with the few remaining Lucayans. Sayle later helped found Charlestown on nearby Eleuthera.

As cited by Island Map Store, Cat Island was also a haven for pirates in the 1600s-1700s. Some believe it was named after the pirate Arthur Catt, though this is unconfirmed. It had good harbors for pirates to hide and was located on sailing routes taken by treasure laden Spanish ships.

British Colonial Era

The British gained control over Cat Island and The Bahamas in 1670. According to,_Bahamas,
this occurred when Charles II granted the islands to the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas. The first white settlers were Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution, who arrived in 1783 according to the same source.

Under British rule, Cat Island became an important location for growing cotton. The labor was done by a large number of slaves brought over from Africa. Life under slavery was exceedingly harsh, with the enslaved people forced to work long hours in poor conditions. Many slave owners were cruel and abusive. There were some small slave rebellions, but they were quickly crushed by the British. Slavery continued until emancipation occurred throughout the British Empire in 1834, again per,_Bahamas.

After Independence

On July 10, 1973, The Bahamas became fully independent from the United Kingdom [1]. This independence day is a major national holiday celebrated throughout the islands. As part of The Bahamas, Cat Island also became fully self-governing at this time.

In the years following independence, Cat Island saw some development but has remained a quiet, laidback outer island with traditional industries like fishing and farming still dominating the local economy. Tourism increased gradually, but massive resorts have not been built like on some other Bahamian islands [2].

Today, Cat Island maintains strong ties with the rest of The Bahamas. Residents participate in national events like the colorful Junkanoo parade on Independence Day. The island’s culture and heritage is celebrated as an integral part of wider Bahamian history and identity.

Economy and Industry

The economy of Cat Island has traditionally revolved around fishing, subsistence farming and small-scale tourism. However, the island has struggled economically in recent decades due to a decline in these industries.

According to an article on the Caribbean National Weekly, the main economic drivers on Cat Island today are fishing and small-scale tourism. Commercial fishing remains an important industry, with fishermen catching grouper, snapper, and spiny lobster for export. Small hotels, guest houses, restaurants, and bars cater mostly to weekend visitors from Nassau.

In an effort to boost the tourism sector, the Bahamian government has invested in infrastructure projects on Cat Island like the new airport terminal opened in 2022. As reported by the Nassau Guardian, there are also plans to redevelop the old cruise ship port in order to attract more visitors to the island.

Outside of fishing and tourism, there is little industry on Cat Island today. Residents largely rely on subsistence farming and fishing to provide for their families. The government hopes further investment in infrastructure will help diversify and strengthen the island’s economy in the coming years.

Culture and People

Today, Cat Island has a small population of around 1,500 people. The main settlement is Arthur’s Town, which was formerly named Port Royal and was the capital of the Bahamas in the mid-1700s. Most residents of Cat Island are of African descent, descendants of slaves brought to the Bahamas during the colonial era.

The culture of Cat Island reflects both its African roots and its history as a British colony. Traditional African arts like straw weaving, wood carving, and storytelling are still practiced. The local cuisine features dishes like boil fish, peas n’ rice, johnnycakes, and conch salad. Music and dance are important parts of the culture, especially the distinctive Bahamian Goombay style. The annual Rake ‘n’ Scrape festival in Arthur’s Town celebrates this music tradition (Mini-Travel Guide to Cat Island).

The main industries on Cat Island are fishing, farming, and tourism. The slower pace of life is focused on community, family, and enjoying the island’s natural beauty. A strong sense of Bahamian pride and preservation of culture persists despite the small population (Oh Cat Island, can you hear me?). Daily life consists of working, spending time with loved ones, worshipping at church, and engaging in cultural traditions.


Cat Island has become an increasingly popular tourist destination in the Bahamas in recent years, known for its natural beauty, secluded beaches, and tranquil pace of life (Source 1). The island attracts visitors looking to escape the crowds and experience an authentic, laidback Bahamian island. Some of the top attractions for tourists include:

– Secluded pink and white sand beaches like Bennett’s Beach on the eastern shore. These beaches attract swimmers, snorkelers, and beachcombers.

– Inland blue holes like The Bottomless Sea that offer excellent scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities to observe marine life.

– Historical landmarks like Mt. Alvernia Hermitage, the highest point on Cat Island, offering scenic views and religious history.

– Laidback fishing villages like Old Bight where tourists can absorb local culture, try authentic cuisine, and watch local fishermen at work.

– Annual festivals like Rake ‘N Scrape that celebrate Cat Island’s unique musical traditions and heritage.

While smaller and less developed than other Bahamian islands, Cat Island offers an authentic island experience away from mass tourism. The island’s untouched natural landscapes, historical sites, and friendly locals continue attracting visitors looking for a tranquil, beautiful getaway.

Environmental Issues

Cat Island faces several environmental concerns. As a low-lying island, it is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. According to a geological study, many Bahamian islands like Cat Island are close to modern sea level and usually in equilibrium. However, rising seas threaten to inundate parts of the island.

Climate change is also expected to bring stronger hurricanes and storms, which could damage infrastructure and buildings on Cat Island. In addition, warming ocean temperatures threaten the island’s coral reefs through bleaching. Increased soil salinization is another risk as seas rise and ocean water intrudes into the freshwater lens under the island.

Some environmental programs are underway to protect Cat Island. Non-profit groups are working to restore mangrove forests and monitor coral reef health. But more action will likely be needed to make the island more resilient and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.

The Future

Cat Island’s future is uncertain as its population continues to decline. Some key factors that will shape the island’s future include:

Development Plans – The local government has proposed plans to attract more tourism and economic activity to Cat Island, including renovating the airport, improving infrastructure, and designating parts of the island as a national park. However, some worry that increased development could ruin the island’s natural beauty and charm (Source: Cat Island Future).

Preservation Efforts – Environmental groups want parts of Cat Island protected to preserve habitats and species. There are efforts underway to have marine areas declared as protected zones. However, enforcement remains a challenge (Source: Cat Island future steps).

Population Decline – Depopulation is a huge threat, with some estimates suggesting the island’s population could fall below 100 people in the coming decades. Maintaining services and infrastructure will become increasingly difficult. Some think tourism can help provide economic opportunities.

Climate Change Impacts – Rising sea levels threaten to erode beaches and force communities to relocate inland. More intense storms also endanger infrastructure. Adapting to climate change will be critical.

Balancing Tourism, Development and Conservation – Striking the right balance between attracting tourists, encouraging development and preserving Cat Island’s natural beauty will be key. Over-development could ruin what makes the island special.

The decisions made today will shape Cat Island’s future. With careful planning, the island can retain its charm while providing economic opportunities for residents. But this will require balancing competing needs through sustainable development policies.

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