Cupid hits Christmas Island for annual journey to the sea

Millions of crabs emerge from the Christmas Island forest and head for the sea.
Millions of crabs emerge from the Christmas Island forest and head for the sea.

Every year, millions of red crabs emerge from the forests of Christmas Island and travel up to 20 kilometres to reach the Indian Ocean. The crabs are answering the call to mate and spawn.

This is one of the world's great wildlife experiences, so get up close and personal to watch the spectacle. The journey for the millions of swarming crabs can take up to 10 days. By then, they are desperate to reach the sea.

Christmas Island is Australia's answer to the Galapagos. National park covers most of the tiny, dog-shaped island, 2600 kilometres north-west of Perth.

For the past 10 years, Lisa Preston has been running guided tour business Indian Ocean Experiences. She organises experiences for travellers from diving with whale sharks, to bird-watching and watching the red-crab spawning.

Despite the pandemic, Ms Preston has been rushed off her feet welcoming a steady stream of arrivals from Western Australia on direct flights from Perth.

"I must be one of the few tour operators who has seen a boom in business - despite COVID-19. With Western Australians unable to travel overseas, many are happy to experience Christmas Island," she says.

"There's so much to do on the island. We can organise nature walks, bird-watching tours, guided excursions to Greta Beach, where visitors help clean up the rubbish that washes up on the shore. This is to help the green and hawksbill turtles which hatch their eggs on the beach.

"There are about 90 species of crabs on the island and up to 60 million crabs live on the island. Part of the crab spawning tour experience includes an evening of nibbles on the eve of the spawning which happens before dawn, followed by a cooked breakfast."

The exact timing of the trek is determined by the moon. The male crabs are the first to arrive, taking a dip in the sea, before retreating to the beach to dig burrows. The females join the males to mate. The male crabs then start their journey home.

The female crabs produce their eggs and remain in the burrows for about two weeks as the eggs develop. Each female crab holds up to 100,000 eggs in her pouch.

When the moon reaches its last quarter, the egg-laden crabs make their way to the shoreline. As the tide starts to recede, the female crabs move into the sea to spawn and release their eggs.

As soon as the eggs hit the water, they develop into prawn-like animals - an early stage before they become fully formed baby crabs. Alas, the majority of the crabs never make it out of the water, eaten by fish, manta rays and whale sharks.

Ms Preston says some of the best places to watch the migration and spawning are at Flying Fish Cove and Ethel and Greta beaches.

And in case you were wondering, red crabs are inedible.

Fly: Virgin Australia flies from Perth to Christmas Island twice per week.

Stay: There's a range of low-key accommodation options on the island, from self-contained units to boutique hotels and lodges.

Explore more: christmas.net.au

Wonderful wildlife

ACT

Head to the National Zoo and Aquarium to see native Australian animals. The zoo is also home to some rare species, including white rhino, red panda and Sumatran tigers.

NSW

Spot wildlife, from koalas to penguins, in the state's lovely nature reserves, marine parks and wetlands. See the shy platypus at Bombala reserve in the Snowy Mountains.

NT

A visit to a wildlife park is the easiest way to see wildlife in the vast Northern Territory. You can meet dingoes at Alice Springs Desert Park or hold a baby crocodile at Territory Wildlife Park.

SA

The state has fabulous wildlife encounters. At Port Lincoln, tourism operators offer visitors the opportunity to come face to face with great white sharks or, for something tamer, you can swim with dolphins and sea lions.

TAS

Tasmania filled with curious marsupials, while the waters are home to some unique marine life. Here, you'll be able to spot animals such as Tasmanian Devils, pademelons, as well as lovely spotted quolls.

VIC

Iconic Australian wildlife appears across the landscape of Victoria. Many of these animals can be found in the state's nature parks. Head to the Dandenong Ranges to see lyrebirds and the Mallee national parks for brightly coloured parrots.

WA

Over half the nation's flora and fauna is found in Western Australia. The state is home to red kangaroos and crocodiles, as well as quokkas on Rottnest Island and little penguins on Penguin Island.

While you're here...

...you might also enjoy