Sunday, May 20, 2007

Horseshoe Crabs (and Red Knots)

In the everything-is-connected-to-everything-else department, there’s a species of shorebird – the red knot – that is almost completely dependent on horseshoe crabs, consuming uncountable numbers of horsehoe crab eggs during migratory stops in spring, particularly along Delaware Bay (there's more info here). The bad news for the red knots is that the Bay’s horseshore crab population has fallen.

Horseshoe crabs live in Long Island Sound too, and there’s an effort now, during the horseshoe crab’s mating season, to both protect them and get a better idea of how well they’re doing.

Connecticut has tightened controls on the number of horseshoe crabs that can be caught for bait, and prohibited taking horseshoe crabs at three beaches where they are particularly numerous – Milford Point, Sandy Point (in West Haven) and Menunketesuck Island (in Westbrook). Judy Benson, of the New London Day, explains, here.

On Saturday, SoundWaters held its annual horseshoe crab count. And the Nature Conservancy is holding a workshop on Monday evening for people interested in helping with a horseshoe crab survey. The workshop is at at 7:30 p.m. at the Westport Library, with Professor Jennifer Mattei of Sacred Heart University.

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Anonymous Emmett Pepper said...

I'm glad to see you covering this, Tom. I fear that we are letting a bird species go to the brink of extinction through our too-little-too-late actions.

Don't get me wrong, I think the steps taken by Connecticut were hugely significant and an excellent first step. Beyond the medical uses of horseshoe crabs (their blue-colored blood is the sole source of Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL), a compound required by the FDA in testing pharmaceuticals), there is no need to be taking these ancient creatures.

CT and NY (and for that matter SC, NC, VA, MD, and MA) should follow New Jersey and Delaware's lead by enacting a moratorium on taking horseshoe crabs.

Also, a plug for a nature walk at one of the locations protected by recent CT regulations:
15th Bioregional Walk
Where: Sandy Point
When: Saturday, May 26, 6 PM
Meet in parking lot across from Captain's Galley
Walk will be led by Brian Casey. This is the time that the horseshoe crabs come to leave their eggs.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I'm not sure that people use many horeshoe crabs these days for fish bait, as they aren't worth a flip for striper but more like black sea bass.

The problem in Delaware was related to collecting horseshoe crabs for medical uses. According to the U-Del Sea Grant, "A compound in the crab's blood is used by the pharmaceutical industry to test intravenous drugs, as well as prosthetics, for bacteria."

It was a big industry, although I'm sure much more restricted now.

Personaly I hope the horseshow makes a come-back in CT. Us kids loved them, since they looked like miniature battle tanks. Dad showed us when they were humping each other and how to turn one over and see if they were male or female. Somehow, other horseshoe crabs would come along and help flip him back over!

3:48 PM  

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