DMWR focuses on Samoan delicacy: Coconut Crab
The coconut crab is a hunted specialty food for the Samoan people, but little is known of the species. That is why the Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) is spearheading the Coconut Crab Project entitled: “Population Biology and Ecology of the Coconut Crab, Birgus latro,” to determine this special animal’s abundance and distribution.
Through information submitted via email to DMWR Director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga earlier this week, DMWR wildlife biologist Alden Tagarino, who is in charge of the project, explained that the coconut crab project was tabled for a while because no biologist took over the project until the middle of the last quarter of fiscal year 2012.
Tagarino said field testing of protocols were conducted on a good number of coconut crabs in the Swains Island. Since the eradication of feral pigs, there has been a healthy population of coconut crabs in that area.
The project is ongoing in the Manu’a Islands, and a tentative schedule for fieldwork there is set for next month from April 22-26.
Tagarino will conduct the fieldwork for the Manu‘a project, with assistance from DMWR volunteer Saifoi Fa’aumu. Initial talks with the village mayor there took place last November. The next step will be field testing of the protocols in the Manu’a Islands, focusing specifically on Ofu Island.
The survey has been implemented in Ofu and it is already scheduled in the activities for the current fiscal year.
At present, there is no estimated count of how many coconut crabs are on island. “It will take another year or two to come up with an idea of how many, or a relative abundance of the species,” Tagarino said.
He explained that coconut crabs are important because it is a specialty food or delicacy for Samoans, usually served during special occasions; and because they are a hunted species and a food source, coconut crabs can be a source of livelihood for some people. “Therefore, it is a resource that we should protect. We need to make sure future generations can still harvest coconut crabs,” Tagarino said.
Coconut crabs are not harmful to local animal and plant life. But they are the top predators in some inhabited islands in the Pacific, as they can grow up to a meter across. Tagarino explained, “This animal is part of the food web and therefore, plays an important role when you look at the ecosystem as a whole.”
He added that at the moment, they do not have a lot of funds to conduct an intensive survey for the project. The project is still in the infancy stage, involving testing protocols, gathering more literature on the species, etc.
Coconut crabs can be seen from the coastal areas, especially during full moon or new moon, depending on the stages of the animal’s development. Females discharge the eggs in the surf zone, preferably in the rocky areas, while adults have been recorded up in the mountainous areas like Olo Ridge in Vatia.
Coconut crabs can be dangerous if they are not handled properly and can cause serious injury.
More information on the coconut crab project can be obtained by contacting Alden Tagarino directly at 633-4456.
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