Christmas Island Is 63 Percent National Parkland...And Has More Crabs Than People | Smart News | Smithsonian
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Christmas Island Red Crab (DIBP Images)

Christmas Island Is 63 Percent National Parkland...And Has More Crabs Than People

This nature's paradise is hard to get to, but is home to a fascinating phenomenon

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On Christmas Island, an afterthought of volcanic rock in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the locals take their wildlife very seriousl. Sixty-three percent of the island’s landmass is an Australian National Park, with mild temperatures, lush forests and coral reefs. But, as the travel site Jaunted recently explained, it's not exactly easy to get to this remote Australian outpost.

According to Jaunted, there are a few 4-hour flights from Perth, Australia, to the island, and it’s possible to charter a one-hour flight from Jakarta, Indonesia, for about the same price (over $1,000). There are no ferries or commercial cruises (though the island’s tourism board is trying to change that).

One of the main attractions is the annual crab migration, immortalized in numerous nature documentaries. The bright red crabs usually live in the forested interior of the island but once a year, at the start of Monsoon season, millions of them make their way to the beach, a perilous journey.

To make it safer for the crabs, the island has created 34 locations for crab underpasses or a grid system on the roads. There are also over seven miles of permanent crab fencing (small aluminum barriers) that line the roads, and park workers add another three miles of movable fencing during the migration period. While the crabs are moving, some roads are even closed temporarily as an extra precaution.

The crab migration is the biggest annual draw of visitors to the island, but no matter what time of year you go, you’re likely to enjoy the island undisturbed by throngs of tourists. The number of tourists is naturally limited by the island's isolation—it's nearly 1,000 miles away from Australia, which governs it. The island is much closer to Indonesia, and is a magnet for asylum seekers from other countries. And while the crabs are treated with care, there are serious questions about the treatment of the detainees, housed in a detention center on the island. The population of the detention center, around 1,000 people, mirrors the entire population of the island. 

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