Nature Video

By Iain Watts


All abroad the crabmobile! This crab-obsessed photographer and his wife have come up with a novel way of travelling during the animals’ annual migration – by fitting SHOES to the front of their car.

Chris Bray lives on Christmas Island, a 52 square mile Australian territory in the Indian Ocean south of Indonesia which each year plays host to one of nature’s most incredible spectacles – a migration of 40 million red crabs.

During the migration, which began last month, the roads are closed to protect the crustaceans but Chris and wife Jess run two luxury eco-lodges which they still needed access to.

So the ingenious couple invented a unique solution – four large plastic shoe-like sweeps attached to the front of their Toyota Land Cruiser to gently push the crabs out of the way without harming them.

The 36-year-old’s incredible images and time lapse video footage shows the roads which traverse the island carpeted in swathes red as the animals migrate from their forest burrows to the coast to mate and lay their eggs.

Chris, who moved to Christmas Island in 2016, said: “During the annual crab migration, the park rangers close the roads to give the animals safe passage.

“We still needed to be able to reach Swell Lodge, so we built a crab safe vehicle attachment for our Land Cruiser.

“It’s essentially little shoes that go in front of the vehicle and gently push the crabs out of the way.

“People nicknamed it the crabmobile. It’s pretty slow, but the guests love it.

“And it beats carrying suitcases and supplies through the jungle on foot, in the rain!”

The crab migration begins when the first rains come, heralding the beginning of the rainy season, and lasts six weeks.

First the males and females both head down to the coast to ‘dip’ in the sea before the males dig a mating burrow and spawn with a female.

The males then head off back into the jungle while the females incubate their eggs for two weeks and then cast their eggs into the sea together.

A further month later, when the tiny eggs have become baby red crabs drifting at sea, if the currents are right they are washed back up onto the island and all crawl into the forest.

As well as closing roads, park rangers construct bridges for the crabs to pass over obstacles during this period.

Chris and Jess were able to begin using their crabmobile to harmlessly bump the crustaceans out of the way after their prototype trial was approved by Parks Australia.

But the 36-year-old admitted he only completed his latest version of the attachments last month – just in time for the crabs to begin their mass migration.

Chris, a former Australian Geographic Photographer who previously ran photo tours to Christmas Island before settling there permanently, said: “I’ve known about the annual red crab migration since I was a kid and saw Sir David Attenborough’s documentary feature, later including it in his top 10 natural wonders on earth.

“I first came to this beautiful paradise as a kid of seven years old in 1990 and remember seeing the red crabs then.

“This year the rains came quite late but the crabs were pretty quick to respond to the rain.

“Virtually overnight they emerged from their jungle burrows and spilled out across the island towards the coast in a dense, solid migrating army.

“It’s astonishing – like a moving red carpet.

“At the moment it’s peak tourism time but on this sleepy little island, that still only means less than a hundred people – it’s an undiscovered paradise.

“We’re so lucky here.

“While the rest of Australia is filled with smoke and enduring 40+°C days, here it never gets above 29°C.”