Forty-five million Christmas Island red crabs are on the move for their once-a-year migration to breed — and so to is the Indian Ocean settlement that still calls Australia home despite sitting just 350 kilometers south of Java.
It was the 2001 Tampa crisis that forever linked Christmas Island with boat people but now the Australian outpost is desperate to shed this image and rebrand itself as Australia’s Galápagos Islands with Google playing a major hand.
Parks Australia has teamed up with the internet giant to map the migration which David Attenborough once described as one of the world’s “most astonishing sights” for Google Maps Street View.
The images are being used to enhance Street View, a component of the company’s Google Maps app, which will allow users to virtually experience the migration — and the island.
Enter Dr Alasdair Grigg, from Parks Australia and resident island expert.
Dr Grigg will spend more than 30 hours lugging around a 20kg trekker (a portable camera unit) through remote parts of the island during the mapping process. The trekker itself features a rosette of 15 fixed focal length camera which take a picture every 2.5 seconds.
Google’s software blends the exposures together, adjusting and correcting colours, brightness and other variables to create the final 360 degree view and on December 13 will capture the crabs “spectacular” spawning.
Dr Grigg said: “Christmas Island is not on the radar of most travellers ... we hope people can get a taste of the migrant through the Trekker — and are inspired to appreciate the conservation values of the island.”
Chairperson of Christmas Island Tourism Association Lisa Preston goes further to add — it is hoped international exposure will boost tourism numbers from the current “500 or so” that visit the island annually.
And this in turn stimulates the economy.
The island’s phosphate mining and immigration-related activities will not sustain the island’s economy indefinitely. Currently the mine employs just more than 100 people (about 30 people were made redundant last month) and the detention centre is due to close in June.
Ms Preston said: “Our national park is our best tourism asset ... you won’t find anything like Christmas Island anywhere else in the world — and who better than Google to help us get the message out there.”
Miranda Schooneveldt spokeswoman for Parks Australia said virtual tours would inspire not just the rest of the world — but also Australians — to visit the region.
“We want to share the uniqueness and beauty of the island with everyone — if we can share this message then this also helps with conservation and Google also understand and respect this message.”
“And let’s be honest what an incredible island.”
Of those that make the flight to Christmas Island, out of Perth, Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur, most usually have a single purpose.
Diving, birds ... and of course the crabs.
Camilla Ibrahim, from Google Australia & New Zealand, said: “The Street View experience is about making places more accessible and inspiring people to appreciate our unique fauna and flora ... so much so that they do visit amazing places like Christmas Island.”
Google’s virtual tour launch of Uluru earlier this year — complete with rock paintings and interactive videos featuring traditional Aboriginal song and dance — reached an audience of 400 million, according to Parks Australia.
It is yet to be seen if Christmas Island will capture the same attention but as tech companies chase potential advertising revenue from location targeted revenue — Google will continue its journey into the remote parts of the globe with conservation a key message.
* The reporter travelled as a guest of Google
1. About 45 million crabs live on Christmas Island — the only place in the world where they are found.
2. Migration begins start of wet season (usually October to December) and is dependent on the lunar phase — and the resultant tide.
3. You cannot eat red crabs.
4. Park staff have built walls and plastic fencing along roads to funnel crabs to crossings, underpasses and a bridge.
5. Many locals carry rakes in their car to clear a safe pathway on the roads.
6. A single female can brood up to 100,000 eggs.
7. Crabs cannot swim but they go for a dip to keep themselves cool.
8. Eggs hatch as soon as they hit the water and when ts happens looks like black ink is being released into the sea.
9. The sound of millions of crabs running along the forest floor sounds like the drumming of rain on a tin roof.
10. Streets are closed off on the island while migration is happening and to protect the crabs.
This story originally appeared in news.com.au.