Connecting the foreign community in Okinawa

The Blueberry Hermit Crab in Okinawa

The Blueberry Hermit Crab sometimes uses beach trash in favor of natural shells. Shawn Miller has made a project of tagging and photographing these crabs, and giving them proper shells to live in.

“Crabs With Beach Trash Homes” is a series I am currently working on. I photograph Blueberry hermit crabs (Coenobita purpureus) that have begun to use beach trash as their homes in place of natural shells. The first hermit crab adapting with a pet bottle cap was found and photographed in 2010, but it wasn’t until 2014, when I started photographing the animals in our coastal forest, that I started seeing a surprising number of these hermit crabs found naturally adapting to the presence of our waste. So, this is when I decided to start the ongoing photographic project.

It’s becoming more common to find crabs with beach trash homes. While these are cute images, our trash is becoming a severe problem for the ocean and the animals that call the shoreline home. I often find hermit crabs using a variety of plastic caps from twist-top pet bottles, laundry detergent containers, small propane tanks, sports water bottles and beauty supplies. Hermit crabs do not prefer plastic homes; they make due with them until they find better options.

In nature, hermit crabs depend on empty shells they find on the beach to make their homes. As they grow larger, they abandon their shells and inhabit larger ones. With increased tourism, people continue to take more seashells off the shorelines as a souvenir and this can cause problems for these crabs by making it harder for them to find suitable shells.

A crab with a plastic shell on the beach in Okinawa (Shawn Miller)

Hermit crabs are valuable to the ecosystem. Coastal forests are one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. These forests depend in part on the daily actions of hermit crabs. Hermit crabs are scavengers, feeding on various plants and assisting seed dispersal. They also naturally aerate the soil. They are cleaners of the coastline, feeding on everything that washes ashore. It’s important that we protect these crustaceans from extinction.

With the help of family and friends, we have photographed over two hundred hermit crabs found naturally adapting to our waste. Since we shared these impactful photographs on social media, many generous people have formed hermit crab organizations and have reached out to help. We received over two thousand shell donations for the project.

Numbered shells ready to be placed in coastal forests (Shawn Miller)

The donated shells are placed in the costal forests where blueberry hermit crabs spend their time while on land in the hope that the crabs will find them and use them instead of using trash. Before placing the shells in the forests, I mark the seashells with the characters “mts4n,” which stand for “make the switch for nature” and I number the shells. Since over-collecting hermit crabs for the wildlife trade is one of the biggest threats to their survival, it is my hope that when collectors find a marked shell they will think twice and leave the hermit crab alone. The goal of the mts4n conservation project is to spark emotion and curiosity, and to educate people on the problems at hand.

My mission is to raise awareness of the plastic pollution issues on our beautiful shorelines, focusing on finding solutions with local groups and inspiring change with my photography projects. Hopefully, my images will inspire people to care more about nature and positivity impact the environment.

If you would like to support The MTS4N Conservation project, go to https://www.patreon.com/MakeTheSwitch4Nature

Learn more about the beautiful nature of Okinawa at https://okinawanaturephotography.com/

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