No More Smashed Crabs: An Audio Journey




Niu, Stephanie

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Christmas Island is a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, a few hundred miles off the coast of Java. It is the site of one of the most spectacular animal migrations in the world: the Christmas Island red crab migration. Every October or November, 40 million crabs begin a long journey from the jungles down to the coast to breed, continuing an annual life cycle. The crab migration intersects with the island’s main roads and has resulted in a series of inventive tunnels, bridges, and fences to protect the crabs from traffic. Another important group of people cross Christmas Island on their migration journey. In 2007, construction was completed on an Immigration Reception and Processing Centre to temporarily detain asylum seekers from neighboring islands. In response to the 2001 Pacific Solution in which “4000 islands were excised from Australia’s migration zone,” Christmas Island became a temporary holding center for boat-bound asylum seekers from Indonesia, eventually transitioning to becoming an isolated site for long-term detention. The center on Christmas Island is the largest in Australia’s onshore detention center network, which continues to operate today. For both animal and human populations, Christmas Island is the site of incredible movement. However, these two migrating populations are treated very differently. My research examines the ways in which red crab migration and asylum seeker migration are treated differently despite their close physical proximity on the island, and what this difference in their treatment reflects about what the Australian government considers worthy of protection. While focused on Christmas Island, my work aims to suggest a more general hierarchy that applies to U.S. immigration policy as well. My project, No More Smashed Crabs, is a podcast about human and animal migration on Christmas Island. The podcast is a result of both anthropological and journalistic methods. To create my audio story, I spent seven weeks living on Christmas Island and two weeks in Melbourne, conducting 20 key informant interviews with detainees, park rangers, and islanders young and old. In addition to interviews and participant observation, I also recorded ambient sounds that formed crucial parts of the story: the prayer call that sounds over the island five times a day, the sound of boots on dried leaves in the island jungle, the sound of million of crabs crawling over a metal bridge on their journey to the sea. The project is currently in a final draft stage and can be found at by the end of April. A blog documenting the journey of traveling to Christmas Island and completing the project can be found at The project was generously funded through the Stanford University Beagle II Award and will be presented at ASURPS, the April Symposium of Undergraduate Research and Public Service at Stanford University. In addition, an audio preview of the project is debuting at The Gallery, a student-run art exhibition at the end of April.


Digital Frontiers Poster Session


red crabs, migration, asylum seekers, Christmas Island, Hindenburg, storytelling, podcasts


Niu, S. (2019). No more smashed crabs: An audio journey. [Conference poster]. Digital Frontiers Annual Conference, Austin, TX, United States.


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