How to Explore Lee Stocking – The Bahamas' Ghost Island

It may look like paradise, but Lee Stocking Island is eerily abandoned
It may look like paradise, but Lee Stocking Island is eerily abandoned | © MJ Photography / Alamy
Christopher P. Baker

The string of 365 islands and cays comprising the Exumas begins 65km (40mi) southeast of Nassau and curves north to south for 190km (120mi), ending with Great Exuma and Little Exuma, the two largest isles. One of the most intriguing of these pearls is Lee Stocking – an uninhabited ‘ghost island’ that until recently was home to the ­Caribbean Marine Research Center, whose ruins now litter the­ enchanting isle. Here, we reveal how best to explore this intriguing and haunting destination.

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Where is Lee Stocking?

Lee Stocking is 8km (5mi) northwest of Basseterre, at the northern tip of Great Exuma. Smothered with thatch palms and scrub, this slender, 6km (4mi) long isle is scalloped by coves lined with glittering beaches. It’s surrounded on three sides by turquoise shallows and sandbanks. On the windward (eastern) shore, Lee Stocking is protected by a barrier reef, beyond which the aquamarine waters plunge precipitously 3,650m (12,000ft) into the depths of Exuma Sound. In planning a visit, be sure not to confuse Lee Stocking Island with Stocking Island, due east of George Town, Great Exuma.

Why is Lee Stocking a ghost island?

In 1957, billionaire publisher and soon-to-be oceanographer John H Perry, Jr, bought Lee Stocking. In 1970 he founded the Perry Institute for ­Marine Science and established the Caribbean Marine Research Center on Lee Stocking in 1984. For 28 years the laboratory studied the Bahamian marine ecosystems under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It specialised in studying conch, spiny lobster and stromatolites – 3bn-year-old microbial reefs that produced the oxygen that first made it possible for life to flourish on Earth. When, in 2012, the NOAA funding dried up, the centre closed. The staff abruptly departed, leaving the buildings, and much of the equipment, furniture and even personal belongings, behind. For visitors, wandering the complex is like exploring a post-apocalyptic movie set in which you expect to see the ghosts of scientists still at work.

What can you see on Lee Stocking?

The main draw of Lee Stocking is the ability to explore the abandoned oceanographic ­research station and its two dozen or so semi-derelict residences and other ghostly buildings scattered across the north end of the island. Don’t miss the decompression chamber, and the old fish and lobster pens. Next, hike the trail up Perry Hill: although only about 30m (100ft) above sea level, the highest point on the island serves up sensational vistas. On the wildlife front, West Indian whistling duck and other native birds can be spotted in ponds close to each end of the weed-riddled airstrip. These pools can be accessed by sandy trails that extend to scalloped beaches which are perfect for snorkelling or for sitting back and relaxing with a refreshing beverage or two. If you’re a keen diver, Adderly Cut is a top spot with dozens of stromatolite fossils on display.

How to get to Lee Stocking

You can expect to have Lee Stocking largely to yourself, with few tours and no ferries running to this desert-island spot. If you approach the outcrop via Adderly Cut, you can throw anchor in a snug bay a stone’s throw from the dilapidated pier of the former marine centre. It’s best to use a dinghy to get to shore, as the pier is now unsafe. If you’re after a skippered boat to get you to Lee Stocking, vessels can be chartered in Great Exuma through Island Boy Adventures. Alternatively, if you have a week to spare, you can sign up for a seven-day sailing adventure in the Exumas with Ocean Adventure Cat, which includes Lee Stocking, plus swimming with pigs on Pig Island and hanging out with nurse sharks at Compass Cay. Other than by boat, it is possible to get to the island by chartering a helicopter, which can land on the otherwise unserviceable airstrip.
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