A seawall with two tidal gaps shields the swimming lagoon next to the pier at St John's Island from the channel that separates the shore from Lazarus Island and Seringat-Kias. The latter, a paradise of artificial proportions, is now a place of loss, a monument to the whims of economic ambition and the wavestruck barrow of two patch reefs that perished under a playground for largely absent revellers. The odd pleasure craft lays weekend anchor by a pontoon that leads to a manicured park, but for the most part, the reclaimed isle simmers with discontent, welcoming to its windblown paths an army of giant African snails, bedraggled kittens and swarthy men who maintain the lot of a paved asset that has yet to yield liquid returns.
With time and favourable currents, the pristine bay between Seringat-Kias and Lazarus Island will suffer the fate of the semi-enclosed beach across the water, which probably lost what early appeal it enjoyed when the sea took its toll of sand and offered in compensation a rising bank of mud. Castles can still be erected above the high water mark and victuals consumed under the shade of casuarina groves, but the leisure cove now resists gentrification with silty mounds, soft flats and layers of debris, the plastic remains of spontaneous picnics as well as the compostable waste of nearby mangroves. Dead fish, brachyuran carcasses, unadventurous propagules and limp weed arrive with the waves to seed the shore with living bodies, which pull apart flesh and fruit to enrich the sediment and restore a measure of disorder to a strand where decay was not expected and never planned.
One of the first, and fastest, caretakers of this intertidal graveyard is Ocypode ceratophthalmus, a crab built for speed and sudden bursts of agility on sandy slopes and low rubble. The animals are usually paranoid, regarding every approaching form as a potential threat and a chance to launch into a rattling sprint. But in the dark, they lose sight of the signals that trigger flight and often allow close scrutiny of their foraging activities. Descending from burrows in higher ground, the crabs sample damp grains for traces of amino acids, following perhaps streams of flavour that emanate from the dead and dying until they reach the source of their compulsion.
Two sturdy chelipeds then confront beached victims and reduce throbbing flanks and feeble limbs to their constituent segments. The digits at the tip of these appendages are stout and lightly built, a far cry from the crudely effective bludgeons of Scylla or the shell-cracking apparatuses of predatory xanthids. But one chela is noticeably bulkier and serves to pin down morsels and possibly browbeat struggling prey into insensible fractions. The other, daintier, claw performs acts of fine dexterity, nipping off bite-sized pieces from larger chunks for delivery to the mouth, where three pairs of maxillipeds take over the manipulation of proteinous shreds. Some individuals are south paws, while others punch with their right, but a similar division of duties holds. The process is by no means refined, but it suffices the crab to get a grip on its meal and maintain a footing that is ready to pick out scraps and propel itself from the tyranny of suburbane table manners.