A Life on the Ocean Waves

The crab Planes cyaneus has a number of common names (including the Columbus or Flotsam Crab) which reflect its ability to literally sail the world's oceans using floating debris.

Flotsam Crab

S Humphreys © Australian Museum

The Australian Museum holds specimens that were found attached to logs, cuttlebone and even green turtles, or that were washed up on surf beaches. Crabs are perhaps the best known of all the crustaceans. There are approximately 6500 named crab species worldwide, 950 of which can be found in Australia. The Australian Museum holds examples of over 1000 crab species in its Marine Invertebrate collection. While most crabs are closely associated with the sea, they also occur in freshwater and on land.

In 1987 an Australian Museum team undertook a study of Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs in the Tasman Sea, about 500 km off the north coast of New South Wales. This was designed to provide information for management of the reefs for the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service. Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs were declared a Marine Protected Area after the completion of this project. During this study, specimens of Planes cyaneus were found attached to floating styrofoam and bottles, rather than natural objects, demonstrating the increasing pollution of even remote areas of the oceans.


Dr Stephen Keable , Collection Manager, Marine Invertebrates
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