Rare Crab Species Preserved Thanks to Closed Israeli Military Zone in Gulf of Eilat

A strip of beach designated as a closed military zone has become the last refuge for Ocypode cursor, a species of ghost crab which has disappeared from other beaches in the area

Ocypode cursor ghost crabs on a Gulf of Eilat beach
Assaf Zvuluni/Israel Nature and Parks Authority

A strip of beach designated as a closed military zone near Eilat has become the last refuge for Ocypode cursor, a species of ghost crab which has disappeared in recent years from other beaches in the area. This was discovered in a recent sweep for mines in the area.

The strip, 200 meters long, lies east of Eilat, near the border with Jordan. Half of it is suspected of harboring mines. In recent decades, following intensive activity by bathers and divers in the area’s beaches, these crabs have disappeared. They are common in other areas around the world but are rare in Israel. The closed military zone protected them from human contact, remaining the only location where they can still be found, even though their typical habitat is a sandier beach, where they can dig burrows which serve as their home.

“I always knew there was a population of these crabs in the area. I’ve seen them several times while visiting the closed area near the border,” says Assaf Zvuluni, the Nature and Parks Authority’s marine ecologist in the Gulf of Eilat. “From time to time I’d encounter a single crab walking around in the early morning hours, before bathers arrived on the beach. The population managed to survive because the beach was closed to the public for security reasons. Otherwise the burrows would have been trampled on.”

Zvuluni says hundreds of burrows have now been found there. “This is a creature that lives right on the shoreline, feeding on carcasses and organic material. Sometimes it goes on short swims. It can live out of the water, but its gills require moisture, which it finds inside a burrow.”

These days the search for mines continues, carried out by members of the Mine Action Authority, accompanied by an inspector from the Nature and Parks Authority. Efforts are being made to prevent any harm to fauna in the area. The crabs can be observed moving around freely, sometimes seen close to marine birds.