Image Credit: Chris Bray Photography

Deck the halls with billions of baby red crabs

  • BY Chris Bray |
  • February 21, 2017

When Christmas Island was over-run by one of the biggest returns of baby red crabs late last year, it was one of the best Christmas presents photographer Chris Bray could have asked for.

SWAPPING THE FESTIVE family feast for something a little less frenzied, my wife Jess and I decided we’d spend Christmas on Christmas Island last year.

More than just a cliché, our holiday hideaway turned out to be utterly unforgettable: decorated with one of the largest returns of baby red crabs ever seen.

baby red crabs christmas island

Image: Chris Bray Photography

baby red crabs christmas island

Image: Chris Bray Photography

Growing up sailing around the world, I first visited this tropical paradise as a seven-year-old in 1990. Memories of snorkeling in crystal-clear water, nesting seabirds, blowholes – and of course the famous red crabs – drew me back almost 25 years later to start running the island’s first photography tours.

Jess and I have run these tours since May 2014, and while the famous red-crabs are ever abundant, I had a yearning to witness what Sir David Attenborough himself describes as one of his top 10 experiences: the annual migration of more than 50 million of these critters from their jungle homes down to the sea to spawn.

baby red crabs christmas island

Image: Chris Bray Photography

baby red crabs christmas island

Image: Chris Bray Photography

Dictated by the lunar cycle and rain, all indications were this spawning would occur at 4.00am on Christmas morning, so we had booked to fly in a few days early. As is often the case, though, nature had other plans and the crabs marched a month early! Although initially devastated, this cloud had a silver lining: the billions of miniscule baby red crabs drifting out at sea miraculously started to return to the island just as we flew in.

It was one of the most amazing spectacles I’ve ever seen – every morning for days on end, the shoreline of the cove (and elsewhere around the island) was painted red with a seething carpet of baby crabs – often inches deep – all clambering ashore and heading inland. The roads, pavements, even building walls were covered. Dive operators were reporting great swirling clouds of baby crabs never before seen, and even the locals agreed this was one of the biggest – if not the biggest – baby red crab returns ever.

baby red crabs christmas island

Image: Chris Bray Photography

baby red crabs christmas island

Image: Chris Bray Photography

Before sunrise on Christmas morning, we went down to the cove and watched a handful of adult red crabs that hadn't received the change-of-date memo come down to release their eggs into the sea, while simultaneously millions of baby ones were crawling out.  

It was the best Christmas I’ve ever had, and we stayed for another four weeks, completely enchanted by this island paradise.

baby red crabs christmas island

Image: Chris Bray Photography

baby red crabs christmas island

Image: Chris Bray Photography

Chris Bray is an Australian Geographic photographer and adventurer. He runs photography courses around Australia and photo safaris around the world through his company Chris Bray Photography.