The Great Horseshoe Crab Expedition
As they have been doing for more than 300 million years, the ancient horseshoe crabs are coming ashore this spring to mate along the Atlantic coast. As they have been doing every year for a mere 25 years, American Littoral Society naturalists Mickey Cohen and Don Riepe led a popular horseshoe crab walk at the Jamaica Bay Refuge last Sunday. “People, especially kids, are always fascinated by this living ‘dinosaur’ as it comes ashore in droves to lay billions of tiny eggs at the shoreline,” said Riepe. Their egg-laying coincides with the arrival of thousands of migratory shorebirds who rely on the eggs to replace body fat burned up during their long journey to nesting grounds in the northern tundra. One bird in particular, the red knot, travels non-stop across the Atlantic from Brazil to Delaware Bay and Jamaica Bay. Here they feed voraciously on the eggs and double their body weight in order to have enough “fuel” to continue the long flight northward.
While the horseshoe crabs are protected in Jamaica Bay, they are still harvested in great numbers elsewhere only to be chopped up and used for eel and conch trap bait and there is great concern that this is negatively impacting shorebird populations. The ‘crabs ‘ also have important medical value as their copperbased, bluish blood is used to detect minute traces of bacteria in vaccines and human blood supplies.
The Littoral Society, NYC Audubon, Jamaica Bay Ecowatchers and other conservation groups have been fighting to protect this species from overharvesting. The next horseshoe crab / terrapin walk is scheduled for Saturday, June 23rd at 11am. For more information about horseshoe crabs, birds and other wildlife in Jamaica Bay, contact the Littoral Society in Broad Channel at 718-318-9344; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.