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Ode To Crabs

Ode To Crabs

If you have ever been to a beach on the Gold Coast, you may have encountered the common ghost crab. If you are a frequent beach-goer, perhaps you have seen hundreds, or even thousands of the critters. But have you ever stopped to think about the role that these small invertebrates play in our coastal environments?

You may be surprised to learn that ghost crabs are a keystone species in our beach ecosystems. In fact, they are commonly used as an indicator of beach health in assessments carried out around the world. The number of crabs on a beach, normally estimated by counting their burrows, can provide an indication of the disruption that the beach has suffered. Factors such as vehicles, trampling, erosion and pollution can crush, bury, or otherwise interfere with crab numbers. The more that a beach has been disturbed, the less crabs that are likely to be on that beach.

Other crab-related factors that might be used in beach health assessments are the diameter and location of their burrows, which are often smaller and less widely distributed in areas of higher disturbance. Beach crabs also play a vital role in food webs. They are usually the top predator on the sand, actively preying on a variety of species, and they themselves provide sustenance for a range of larger organisms such as birds. Crabs further act as natural cleaners of the beach, filtering sediments from the sand and consuming a huge array of plant and animal matter. In fact, they will eat almost anything organic that they find on shore: plant debris, animal carrion, human food scraps, you name it!

A clean beach allows resident plant and animal species to flourish, and thus dune habitats to thrive. Overall, crabs certainly carry a lot of responsibility in our beach ecosystems. So what can we do to help? Well, some of the conservation measures implemented can include fencing off damaged dunes for restoration, controlling weeds and providing education and dune regeneration programs to schools and community members. This is where you come in!

Join us, the Griffith Centre for Coastal Management in partnership with the City of Gold Coast, on one of our weekly BeachCare sessions where you can help our little crab friends by planting native dune flora, removing invasive weeds and getting rid of human rubbish (the non-organic stuff that crabs can’t clean up themselves!). For more information, call 07 5552 8829, email, or check us out online.

And, lastly, the next time you see a crab on the beach, give them a little nod of thanks for keeping our ecosystem healthy.


By Alisa Shuker and Maggie Muurmans



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