Yes, you can. Coconut crabs are native to the Indian Ocean and central Pacific Ocean, and their meat is considered a delicacy. However, with the demand for the meat from this crab being so high, the coconut crab is becoming an endangered species.
Today, we’ll give you a little backstory on this fascinating creature and what efforts have been made to save it.
The Life of a Coconut Crab
Coconut crabs start out their lives floating in the ocean as larvae, developing until they are old enough to make their way to the beach.
They’re relatives of the hermit crab, and like that familiar crustacean, they spend some time living in borrowed shells, slowly upgrading to bigger ones as they grow. Unlike hermit crabs, however, coconut crabs eventually forgo sea life and borrowed shells in favor of living solely on land and developing a hard exoskeleton. After the juvenile stage, they can no longer breathe underwater or swim.
Adult coconut crabs are mature five years after hatching, but they continue to grow for most of their life, which can be more than 40 years long. However, many coconut crabs never get to that age, and in fact, many don’t even make it to that important five-year mark. Several die to predators during the early stages of their development, particularly the larval stage, and in adulthood, they’re in danger of being eaten not only by humans but also occasionally by other coconut crabs.
As adults, they spend most of the daylight hours burrowed underground, venturing out at night to scavenge. Their highly advanced sense of smell helps them search out food–and they don’t discriminate. They’ve earned the nickname “robber crabs” because of their tendency to steal pretty much anything that smells even faintly of food, including silverware.
Their diet mostly consists of fruits, dead or decaying animals, other crab species, and sometimes the coconuts from which they get their name.
Coconut crabs are largely very antisocial creatures. They live alone in their burrows and tend to keep their distance from other coconut crabs unless they’re mating. In fact, if one coconut crab gets too close to another by choosing to enter their burrow or encroaching on their territory in some other way, they will not hesitate to attack and eat each other.
Coconut Crab Conservation Efforts
It is perhaps because of their nature that attempts at the conservation of these vulnerable crustaceans have had mixed success. These crabs are huge, they can live for a pretty long time, they propagate slowly, and they have a very low survival rate at the larval stage before they leave the ocean.
The high demand for them as food only exaggerates this problem, particularly in recent years, as tourism is becoming more and more common in the remote locations and small islands where these crabs live. People come to these places to get a taste of the famous coconut crab, and in the process, the population of the animal depletes more and more.
For years now, we’ve been trying to find a way to protect these creatures, and the hunting of them has indeed gone down a little as the information about their endangered status spreads and local governments place bans on hunting these animals. But it’s not a perfect solution.
Attempts to raise coconut crabs in captivity have been largely unsuccessful, as we’ve discovered that egg-bearing females will often eat their eggs rather than releasing them as they do in the wild. Additionally, the rolling waves of the ocean are essential to the early development of coconut crab larvae, so simply allowing the eggs to hatch in a safer location isn’t an option.
Because attempting to raise these crabs in captivity doesn’t work, the best possible plan is to create a sanctuary for them. However, this is a difficult task, as the crabs need a large area of land to live on that has access to the sea so that they can release their young. This means that putting a sanctuary on an island where people also live could be hazardous to the crabs, as main roads are often placed near the beach, which crabs would have to cross to get to the ocean.
Though some such conservation areas and sanctuaries have been established, such as the Funafuti Conservation Area in Tuvalu, these efforts could still be improved upon and expanded.
Should You Eat Coconut Crabs?
Ultimately, the question you should be asking yourself is not “can I eat coconut crabs?” It’s “should I eat coconut crabs?” Overhunting and habitat loss are some of the biggest reasons why coconut crabs and many other endangered animals are at risk of becoming extinct. These are both caused mostly by humans, and humans are the only ones who can change it. Coconut crabs are edible.
Even if you live nowhere near a coconut crab’s natural habitat, you can still play an important part in the conservation of both this and other endangered species.
Start by researching the endangered species in your area to learn more about their specific problems and ways that you can help with their preservation. Be mindful about the items you purchase and use, making sure they don’t contain ingredients that come from an endangered species.
Finally, helping the environment helps us all, endangered species and not. Recycling, conserving water and electricity, reusing old items, and buying used instead of new are all easy ways to keep the earth a little greener.