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Two and a half feet wide with claw the size of a man’s hand

By Bill Jaynes

POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (Kaselehlie Press, Oct. 29, 2008) - Workers cleaning the land below the unfinished Nan Madol Hotel in Nett on Tuesday, October 21, captured a coconut crab that is the largest in Pohnpei's recorded history.

The employees jockeyed for "finder's rights." They wanted to take it home and eat it.

Marie Olter, who owns the Rusty Anchor bar that operates in the building, would have none of that and notified the Conservation Society of Pohnpei.

Eugene Joseph was sent by CSP to examine the monstrous crustacean with claws nearly as large as a grown man's hand.

"It was fighting us all the way so we couldn't really spread it out for measurement," Joseph said. "As best I could tell it had a two and a half foot leg span but it was probably bigger."

He said that the world record leg span for a coconut crab was long ago set at three feet. The record crab was discovered on one of the Caroline Islands of Micronesia but Joseph could not determine which island. He did say that he was absolutely certain that Tuesday's discovery is the biggest coconut crab found in Pohnpei's recorded history.

Though there are coconut crabs on Pohnpei's mainland, the majority of them are on atolls such as Pohnpei's And island, an atoll approximately 25 miles northwest of Pohnpei's big island.

Baby crabs spend the first 30 days of their lives just offshore in the ocean. The rest of their lives are spent on land. They are vegetarians and live on coconuts and other vegetable matter.

Joseph estimated that the one found on Tuesday, October 21 is 20 to 30 years old.

Olter has not decided what to do with the crab yet. For now it is living inside an old construction tool box where a comfortable and familiar environment has been arranged for it. The floor is covered in sand, coral, and rocks. There is a large clam shell behind which the crab can hide so that it can sleep, which it does for most of the day. There is water to drink and plenty of coconuts, its favorite food.

There has been talk of searching for the crab's mate before it is released to the land where it was found. Olter said that she is hesitant to do that because so many people know about the crab and the land on which it was found. She doesn't want people hunting for it. Her earliest plan involved the possibility of transporting the crab to And atoll but that idea was quickly dismissed because Pohnpei mainland fishermen often visit the island to fish. When they are not fishing they scour the land for crabs for the market. The monster crab would make a valuable prize at the Pohnpei markets.

Joseph offered to help Rusty Anchor make the crab an attraction for the bar by helping to enhance the crab's current environment and writing information to be posted on its cage so that customers can view the record crab.

He said that coconut crabs are not an endangered species but that the Conservation Society of Pohnpei is grateful for the way the discovery was handled. "If a local crab hunter had found it, it would have been a big dinner!"

Olter said that she and her husband are trying to take quick action. She said that while they leave the toolbox's top open during the day when the bar is closed, it's not the way the crab is used to living. The couple wants to secretly release the crab somewhere within Pohnpei that no one knows about

They may yet keep the crustacean as a pet if they think that will help to save its life.

"That crab has lived a long time," said Olter. "It deserves to live!"

The Kaselehlie Press

© 2008 The Kaselehlie Press

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