When Christmas Island is mentioned, most people first think of the Red Crabs. It’s estimated that there could to be close to 120 million crabs on the island (many more than the previous estimate of 50 million) and, from afar, it can look like the island is covered in a red carpet during their annual migration.
In the months of November and December, the crabs flock from their forest homes to the coast for the mating season, the pitter patter of fast-moving feet a constant background noise. Christmas Island National Park staff have to close roads and erect temporary barriers that stretch for kilometres to protect the critters.
Rocks covered in a 'carpet' of baby Red Crabs. Image: Indian Ocean Experiences
Lisa Preston, manager of Indian Ocean Experiences, says it’s no surprise that tourism peaks during this time. “Our Red Crabs are endemic and they are truly amazing. Over millions of years spent on the island, the crabs have adapted the forest to suit their needs. There is minimal low-lying shrubbery now because the crabs like the forest floor clean, so they can easily move around.”
Cyclist navigating the migration. Image: Indian Ocean Experiences
In Lisa’s opinion, the most remarkable crab experience occurs when mass spawning is successful. “Spawning usually happens about four to five weeks after migration, and if the conditions are ideal baby crabs return from the sea in droves, but it can vary radically from year to year,” Lisa explains. “I remember in 2016, on Christmas morning, it was just phenomenal.
Red Crab migration at night. Image: Indian Ocean Experiences
The babies arrived a month earlier than expected and we were not able to offer our guests the usual buffet breakfast because we were sitting on an ankle-deep carpet of red,” she laughs. “Of course, there were no complaints and the guests were awe-struck.” Lisa stresses that baby crab returns are hard to plan for from a tourism perspective.
“We have an estimated spawning time, but the babies can be a week early or late, or they may not come at all,” she explains. “However, the adults definitely go through migration every year and it’s just a phenomenal experience all round."
Red Crab Spawning Christmas Island
Witness one of the most amazing events on our animal planet, as 60 million Red Crabs migrate from the forest to the ocean shoreline to mate and spawn each wet season in November or December.