The March of the Key Biscayne Crabs

Laura Guertin

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If you visit Miami, Florida, and gaze across Biscayne Bay, you can see the 76-foot tall flyover ramp named Rickenbacker Causeway that connects Miami to the island of Virginia Key. There are no residences on the island, but it has public beaches, restaurants, an aquarium, and research laboratories, including the marine campus of the University of Miami. I attended this UM campus to earn my graduate degree and lived on the next island connected to the south, Key Biscayne. For years, I drove on the only road that joined my home to my school, going back and forth between Key Biscayne and Virginia Key across the ocean on Bear Cut Bridge. It was an incredible and scenic drive to take every day – except for a few days a year, each and every year, when the drive turns into one of the most horrifying driving experiences you can have in the greater Miami region.

You see, the northern tip of Key Biscayne contains the 800+ acre Crandon Park, and the island connecting road has one driving through a beautiful, heavily vegetated section of the landscape so thick that you can't see the ocean from the road. But this scenic drive on Crandon Boulevard quickly turns into a scene from a Hollywood B-horror film, as once a year, starting on the east coast of Key Biscayne, thousands of crabs walk through Crandon Park to the west coast of the island. And there is one feature in their way – the road that myself and numerous others drive back and forth on to get to Virginia Key. These bright, red-colored crabs, approximately four inches in width, slowly side-step their way across Crandon Boulevard, following their instinct to migrate across the island. The crabs must be completely oblivious to the fact that their march across the road puts them in the direct pathway of vehicular traffic.

I recall the annual crab migration being such a dense collection of thousands of crabs crossing the road for approximately a half-mile stretch, and there was no way I could drive around them. Each time my Chevy Cavalier approach this mass of marching crabs, I had no choice but to drive over them. Although they were small enough that I didn't feel the impact of creating a stretch of crab roadkill, I cringed every time. I know I clenched my teeth and squinted my eyes – I think I even screamed out loud a few times - not wanting to see the crabs just continuing on their way as myself and all the other drivers were driving over their population. Towards the end of their migration period, there were crab carcasses still scattered across the road and on the side.

Key Biscayne is not the only location in Florida that experiences crab migrations. In fact, crab migrations occur in other geographic regions such as Cuba and Alaska. Perhaps the most famous annual crab migration takes place on Christmas Island, located in the Indian Ocean. The start of the monsoon season triggers the annual crab movement from the island's forests to the beach – and there are millions of crabs that join this march. But on Christmas Island, the Australian National Park system actively works to protect the crabs, having constructed 34 locations as safe crossing for the crabs that include underpasses and fencing to keep the crabs safe from traffic along the roads. There's even an overpass that the crabs can use to avoid traffic, and roads are temporarily closed at peak migration times to allow the crabs to enjoy a safe journey to the beach.

It would be amazing to see something similar constructed on Key Biscayne. Although the island does not have the same numbers of crabs during the migration period as Christmas Island, the memory of driving over the crabs is so vivid and has stayed with me all these years (for almost 30 years!). We can't expect
the crabs to halt their annual march across Key Biscayne or any other location, but maybe we can make their journey through nature a little safer – and the drive less anxious for those that must pass across their pathways.

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