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Mutant Crabs Protect Blacktip Island’s Reefs

Genetically-modified channel crabs, escapees from Cuban biological labs, are now protecting Blacktip Island’s marine parks.

Genetically-modified channel crabs, escapees from Cuban biological labs, are now protecting Blacktip Island’s marine parks.

The Tiperon Island Marine Parks Department Friday confirmed reports it is using laboratory-bred channel crabs to protect Blacktip Island’s dive sites against scuba diver-related damage, tasking the crustaceans with pinching divers who come in contact with the Caribbean island’s fragile reefs.

The crabs, larger and more aggressive than wild channel crabs, are a byproduct of the genetic research of famed Cuban geneticist Pellizco de Cangrejo, Tiperon University-Blacktip biology professor Ernesto Mojarra said.

“It’s a gene-splicing experiment gone horribly wrong,” Mojarra said. “Instead of big, tasty crabs, they ended up with big, mean ones. Then the crabs broke out of the lab and took over the reefs. For a short time they controlled significant portions of Old Havana.

“Trade winds and currents carried some of them to Blacktip Island’s reefs, where they’ve become intractable.”

“These suckers are nasty,” said marine parks spokesperson Val Schrader said. “They’ll defend their territory to the death. We’re lucky we’ve been able to recruit them to our side.

“Scuba tourism’s our life’s blood, but reef-crashing divers are fast destroying that,” Schrader said. “We have to take action. One touch from a careless diver can kill an entire coral head. We’re strapped for cash, or we’d hire more officers. With these crabs onboard, well, it’s win-win. The reefs are safe, and we don’t have to pay wages or benefits.”

Local reaction to the news has been positive.

“We’ve had the crabs for years,” Club Scuba Doo dive operations manager Finn Kiick said. “They’re more of a nuisance than anything. We can’t get rid of them, so we might as well embrace them.”

“Recreational divers have to learn: you touch coral, you pay the price,” Blacktip Haven owner Elena Havens said. “You think a stingray hickey’s bad? Wait ‘til you get a Cuban crab pinch.”

Scuba diving visitors, however, are furious.

“These monsters have been leaving us bruised and bloody for years,” longtime Blacktip Island dive guest Buddy Brunnez said. “Now, to find the government’s sponsored it? It’s like a bad horror movie. Trip Advisor’s getting some scathing reviews about this. We pay good money to dive here. We can touch anything we want.”

Meanwhile, island dive shops are making the most of the situation.

“We’re selling Peak Performance Buoyancy courses like hotcakes,” Eagle Ray Divers operations manager Ger Latner said. “It’s amazing how motivating a 450 foot-pound pinch in the shorts can be. Our Crab Diving specialty courses are jam packed, too.”

Marine Parks officials would not confirm rumors of other marine life being trained to safeguard the island’s reefs.

“Moray eels chomp divers all the time,” Schrader said. “And it’s not uncommon for pike blennies to take a chunk of flesh from a diver who strays too close. That’s just coincidence. Reef life protecting itself.”

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Filed under Caribbean, Scuba Diving