This Christmas, Christmas Island has experienced one of the largest red crab migration events that the locals have ever seen. A long rainy wet season set the crabs off to an early start, spawning in November, and over the past several weeks, the baby crabs have been returning in quantities never before seen.
So… what’s it like to live with all this going on all around you? We asked local teenager Rochelle Lessing, who has lived on the island for three years. Rochelle is 16 years old, turning 17, just like the year itself - and was born on the east coast of South Africa...
I lived in a small town called Richards Bay. The weather was very similar in temperature and humidity to Christmas Island so the climate wasn’t a massive change for us when we moved. But I was never an outdoors person until we moved here. The walking tracks, the beautiful beaches, snorkelling, fishing, diving the lot - so many opportunities to get out and do things! Moving to Christmas Island in 2013 proved to be one of the most amazing adventures my parents decided to take me and my two younger siblings on.
Why would I say that? Well growing up in South Africa; robber crabs, blue crabs, red crabs, Booby birds and Bosuns of varied color were very new to us all. We didn’t even know there was something as weird and wonderful as the robber crab!
But out of all the critters and creatures we have encountered, it is the Red Crabs of Christmas Island that are the oddest of the bunch and that most certainly added to the excitement of living here.
Three years down the line and all these odd but wonderful creatures have become a major part of our daily lives. Especially when the migration starts.
The lead up to the red crab migration is exciting for new comers and locals alike - at first, not much change brought about in our daily lives…but that soon changes. At first, no roads are closed which means more venturing out to other parts of the island, no playing ‘drive around the crabs’ on the main roads, no odd scratching noises against your front or back door and no trying to sweep as much of them out of the driveway in order for dad to get to work. But of course all that changes - when there is enough rain for the crabs to get moving.
The spawning is truly an amazing phenomenon. The females releasing their eggs into the ocean had us all in giggles and awe. The very early morning for us didn’t matter, just as long as we could see these wonderful creatures ‘dancing’ to release their eggs.
But it is truly the return of the translucent googly-eyed babies that gets everyone on the island very excited. The anticipation after the spawning of these tiny little creatures becomes higher and higher as the weeks go by. The rough seas of this year had us all wondering when our babies might return and how many of them would be returning. Hence we were expecting only a smaller than average return due to the daunting and dangerous conditions of the sea.
Boy, oh, boy were we wrong.
The morning of Wednesday the 14th December 2016 brought some excitement as the semitransparent babies started to emerge. Locals, photographers (professional and amateur) and tourists were out early in the morning capturing them and letting - not only the Island- but also the world know that our babies had finally started their return. These were exciting times for both tourists and locals as we finally got to welcome the new generation of babies to the island.
Some locals were checking the shoreline daily at the crack of dawn and I have to admit - so were we. It was such a phenomenal experience and seeing how much my younger siblings enjoyed playing with the baby crabs brought immense joy to us all.
The rangers had closed the road at the post office not allowing anyone to enter the Kampong via car- the only exception being the locals who lived there. Even they weren’t keen on the idea of driving on the road as the tiny babies crossed.
In order to witness the baby crab masses, we had to pull over, and partake in a morning stroll. But from the start we could see the abundance of the crabs that covered the corridors and patches of the beachfront like a red blanket.
Something no one expected this year… 28 days later and the crabs are still making their return from the ocean! What a sight it has been!