Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 2, 2013

Colossal Crabs of Christmas Island

00000449It was almost 2:00 am by the time we sailed into Flying Fish Cove, the safest anchorage in Christmas Island.  The captain hated anchoring in the dark, but we just couldn’t reach Christmas Island fast enough or slow down enough to reach it during daylight hours.

By the morning, almost all of the other boats were leaving.  Only a few boats remained in the anchorage: the German boat Juba and a large looked as if it were held together with duct tape and zip ties.  I didn’t have much time to examine it.  We had to dinghy to the pier to check-in.  The customs officer had made a special trip for the ARC and was only going to be there for another hour.

Near the pier we met Robyn and Hugh, an Australian couple from Perth who kept a second home on Christmas Island.  To be more accurate Perth was really their second home.  They stayed on Christmas Island as much of the year as they could.  The laid-back island had it all:  there was beautiful weather, always in the 70s or 80s, jungle, beach, razor-straight cliffs, and wonderful Chinese and Indian restaurants.  It even had its own golf course!

For an island with a population barely over 2,000, Christmas Island also boasts remarkable amenities.  This is at least partly due to Christmas Island’s main industry:  the Refugee and Immigration Detention Center.


The name makes it sound much more intimidating than it actually is, in reality it is a place that helps naturalize all boat refugees who come to Australia before taking them to the mainland.  Thousands of refugees sail into Australia every year mainly from Sri Lanka or Afghanistan.

Neither our new friends, nor the customs officer who checked us into Christmas Island were pleased with Australia’s newest arrivals.  They explained that the refugees who arrived in Australia via boat were all granted asylum.

“I wouldn’t mind if they actually needed to seek asylum,” the customs officer told us, “but a lot of these people are middle class Sri Lankans who just want a better life here.”

Every day or two a new refugee boat arrives in Christmas Island and the detainment center springs into action.  When a refugee boat makes it to Australian waters the refugees were taken off of the boat, granted asylum, and their boat was taken out into the ocean and sunk.

The run-down boat I had seen that morning had been a boat that had arrived the day before and was scheduled to be sunk the next day.


Though Christmas Island was a treasure trove of natural beauty with ideal weather, even Robin and Hugh’s friends wouldn’t come visit them on the island because the refugees gave the island such a bad reputation.  But there was a lot more to Christmas Island than the refugee detainment center and Hugh and Robyn eagerly took us on a tour.


All that I knew about Christmas Island (which I’d only just learned) was about

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe Christmas Island Crab migration.  Every year at the start of rainy the island was a blanket of red as these crabs journey from their burrows to lay their eggs in the ocean.   During this time the already laid-back island slows to a crawl tiptoeing around the migration.  Roads close and indeed whole sections of the island are inaccessible.  After all, it’s a $5,000 fine for killing a crab on Christmas Island.

Not that you’d want to eat one anyway, the Christmas Island crabs were small and couldn’t have had more than a mouthful of meat in their entire body.  The robber crabs, on the other hand, now one of those might almost be worth the fine.

Robber crabs, also known as coconut crabs were Christmas Island’s other type of crab.  Hiking through the jungle Hugh and Robyn pointed out several of the

animals.  The football-sized examples were just babies, they explained.  They grew fast.  Robyn pulled out her phone to show a picture of one monstrosity raiding a garbage can.   The 3’ long crab crawling up the black garbage can looked photo-shopped.



Hugh pulled over to the side of the road to show us a young booby bird.  I took a picture, carefully edged a

little closer and took another.   I didn’t want to scare him.  Colossal Crabs of Christmas Island

“Just go right up to him,” Hugh told me.  “
They aren’t afraid.”  2/3 of Christmas Island was a national park so the animals were all-but tame.

We drove up to the top of a cliff where water sprayed through vents in the cliff with a resounding boom.  Mother boobies with their adolescent young sitting perched on the jagged brown rocks that littered the cliff top regarded us fearlessly.

00001956We searched all day and into the evening but did not see a single one of the 44 million Christmas Island crabs residing on the island.  I didn’t mind at all though.  Our tour of the island had been incredible.   I hope Robyn and Hugh’s friends change their mind and make it out for a visit.

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