Ghost Crab of Hatteras Island

The population of ghost crab on Hatteras Island is negatively effected by both off road vehicles and high energy weather events. First, on sections of the beach where vehicles are operated, scientists have found a reduction in the density of the population of crab and a potential of limited repopulation because of destruction of burrows (Hobbs 1450). Second, beach erosion caused by severe storms further destroys ghost crab burrows forcing them to move further inland to the sand dunes (Hobbs 1453). The combination of these two issues not only has a negative effect on existing ghost crabs but has a detrimental effect on the settlement of young crab.



Ghost Crab

Shoreline Erosion


Because the use of off road vehicles is so devastating to the ghost crab population, many areas now restrict the use of these vehicles. The beach at Coquina for example tried restricting the use of off road vehicles to 10 hours a day (Hobbs 1456). Unfortunately, this level of protection was insufficient to provide adequate repopulation by the ghost crab. A better solution seems to be the restriction of these vehicles 24 hours a day for the 20 meters of beach closest to the sea (Hobbs 1456). Although this method still inhibits the crabs’ ability to create burrows close to the water, they are able to effectively maintain a home further inland and their access to the sea appears to be unaffected.

Major weather events however are not controllable. These major storms can essentially wipe out entire colonies of crab on the beach. While this event may seem devastating, new evidence suggest that this natural process is not entirely detrimental to crab populations. After a major weather event, a significant portion of the crab on the beach are swept away (Hobbs 1453). However it appears that only larger adult crab burrow in this section of beach, the younger adolescent crab are typically confined to the dune area. As more space is available on the beach, adolescent crab have an opportunity to move closer to the water (Hobbs 1453). Thus, major weather events appear to be a natural mechanism for the cab population to “re-set” itself.


It is important to note that artificially restricting ghost crab to one section of their habitat becuase of vehicle use inhibits the natural “re-setting” process to take place.  It is unknown at this time whether limiting the crabs to the sand dunes is detrimental to the entire population thus, more research must be done. What is clear is that event our attempts to share the beach with our animal neighbors can have unintended and potentially detrimental effects. Therefore, the effective coexistence of technology and nature remains to be seen.