Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity’

It’s Not Easy Being a Horseshoe Crab in New York Harbor

May 31, 2017

Blog by Joe Reynolds, Coastal Naturalist

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Photo by Joe Reynolds.

Intro by Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director: To honor last week’s Endangered Species Day, we’re posting Joe’s blog on horseshoe crabs which are “Near-Threatened” per Endangered Species International.

My children grew up on Long Island Sound mesmerized by the spring tide of these prehistoric, armored invertebrates. Since they’re now rarely seen on those shores, I couldn’t resist a bit of further research and adding some Editorial Notes!

Author and coastal naturalist Joe Reynolds is also an activist — and he can count. NWNL applauds his monitoring of these “upside-down skillets with tails.” I look forward to joining his next full-moon count in Raritan Bay! Check Joe’s blog with pictures, video and stories of wildlife from Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay and Lower New York Bay: http://www.nyharbornature.com

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“Selfie” provided by Joe Reynolds.

WHAT’S HAPPENING UNDERFOOT?

Watch where you step this spring! Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) are beginning to crawl ashore on beaches around Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay, Jamaica Bay, and other shallow estuarine sites around New York Harbor. They mate on full and new moon evenings in May and June.

Yet another spawning season for horseshoe crabs has commenced, an annual rite of spring that goes back 450 million years. For Jurassic Park movie fans, that’s 230 million years before the first dinosaur! [Ed note: They even survived the Permian extinctions when 95% of all marine species disappeared.)

Known as “living fossils,” horseshoe crabs are harmless, ancient creatures effectively unchanged through time. Horseshoe crabs are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than to crabs. However, as marine arthropods, they are really a prehistoric family of animals unto themselves.

In late April, horseshoe crabs begin to migrate from deeper ocean waters into estuaries to breed. First on the beach are often males, waiting for available females. What follows is like a primitive singles bar, minus a colorful tiki bar. But alcohol isn’t needed here.

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Photo by Joe Reynolds.

When a single female crab crawls out of the surf, she releases chemical cues called “pheromones” that help attract a breeding male. He then grasps her from behind with special appendages shaped like tiny boxing gloves on the end of his front walking legs. With her male in tow, she moves through the intertidal zone – a beach area that is above water at low tide and under water at high tide. There they deposit and fertilize 60,000 to 120,000 lime-green eggs in batches in wet sand.

In 2 to 4 weeks the eggs hatch. The size of a human fingernail, the young are a near–replica of an adult, though tail-less. The small crabs head straight to the water where they will grow in sandy shallow areas of the estuary. It takes 8 to 12 years for a crab to sexually mature and migrate back to bay beaches to breed.

 

THE VALUE OF HORSESHOE CRABS

Who would guess horseshoe crabs are critical to migratory shorebirds? But, yes, the fatty eggs of horseshoe crabs provide an important food source for many migratory shorebirds, including red knots (Calidris canutus), ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres), and sanderlings (Calidris alba), as they pause in their northward journeys to breed in the Arctic.

[ED Note: The red knot (part of the sandpiper family) makes one of the longest migrations of any bird: 15,000 km (9,300 mi) from Tierra del Fuego in S. America to the Arctic. On their mid-Atlantic stop, they re-energize and fatten up by feasting on what was a superabundant supply of horseshoe crab eggs. Red knots were numerous in N. America until masses were shot in the 1880’s. With further declines since the 1960’s, they are a “threatened species,” per the Endangered Species Act. So healthy horseshoe crab populations are critical to red knot survival. (Citation: http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-knot)]

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Red knot. Photo by Dick Daniels, in Creative Commons.

STEWARDS STUDYING THEIR DECLINE

Although the world’s largest spawning horseshoe crab populations are in Delaware Bay, the busy New York Harbor has crabs too. Few people welcome them; but those that do, know when and where to find them by the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands along the shore.

Our Bayshore Regional Watershed Council is an environmental group dedicated to improving water quality and restoring the wildlife habitat of Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay. Since 2009, our volunteers have counted horseshoe crab populations along the southern shore of NY Harbor in Monmouth County, NJ. Our goal is to note their spawning population and ascertain if it is stable, increasing or decreasing.

 
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Volunteers tagging a horseshoe crab to monitor its New York Harbor location. Photo provided by Joe Reynolds.

So far our study shows a horseshoe crab population that is less than robust. There’s been a steady decline in adult females. In 2009, the Watershed Council counted 495 female crabs (singles and mating) across 1,000 feet of beach at five sites in Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays. Yet, in 2016 only 217 female crabs were counted at the same sites. (Ed: minus 50% in 7 years). The single female population decreased from 96 to 15 during this time period. (Ed: minus 85%)

Surprisingly, male populations are growing. In 2009, there were 679 male crabs at monitoring locations (single and mating) in Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays. This increased in 2016 to 1,016 (Ed: plus about 75%). The single males also increased: from 251 to 769 (Ed: plus 300%)

This great inequality between sexes affects their spawning. It takes two to make a baby! Swimming pairs (crabs seeking a place to lay eggs) decreased from 265 in 2009 to 130 in 2016 (Ed: minus 50% in 7 years). Burrowed pairs (crabs in the process of laying eggs) decreased from 276 to only 50 pairs in 2016. (Ed: minus 80%)

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Lemon Creek Park, Staten Island, NY, on the Raritan Bay. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

HUMAN OVER-HARVEST of HORSESHOE CRABS

What could cause such a dire decline in females? Humans and money, of course. Increased harvesting of horseshoe crabs in NY waters threatens their population. NY is the only state on the U.S. Atlantic Coast without a horseshoe-crab harvest moratorium during their breeding period.

Females are repeatedly harvested more than males since they are about 30% bigger and thus have more meat. Adult females also often carry eggs, which will make better bait.

Since 2009, NY State’s commercial quota for horseshoe crabs has been around 150,000 crabs. Some come from NJ’s Raritan Bay and the south shore of Long Island. But an undetermined amount of crabs in NY Harbor are being harvested illegally.

In 2013, two men from Brooklyn were arrested for stealing 200 horseshoe crabs from an island locally known as the Ruffle Bar in Jamaica Bay, Queens. They were charged with taking wildlife without a permit and disturbing wildlife breeding practices in a National Park.

On April 30, 2017, a woman was arrested in Jamaica Bay for illegally harvesting 7 horseshoe crabs. She told U.S. Park Police she was harvesting crabs for her business. The body parts of horseshoe crabs command a high price in some parts of the world since they are considered an aphrodisiac for men.

Horseshoe crabs are also used as bait for the American eel and channel whelk (aka conch) which are highly valued by Asians and Europeans. U.S. harvesters use body parts of female horseshoe crabs as bait for eel and whelk. Thus female horseshoe crabs are supplying global seafood needs. In 20 years, the price for 1 horseshoe crab has jumped from 25 cents to over $5.

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Photo by Joe Reynolds.

Horseshoe crabs are also harvested by the medical industry for their copper-based blood which turns blue when exposed to air. Horseshoe crab blood has remarkable antibacterial properties that insure no impurities exist in medicines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all intravenous drugs, vaccines and medical devices that come in contact with the human body (i.e., replacement hips, hearts, knees or pacemakers) to be tested by crab’s blood for bacterial toxins associated with toxic shock syndrome, meningitis and typhoid. Millions in the US survive each year due to the clotting characteristics of horseshoe crabs’ blue blood.

Unfortunately medical benefits for humans don’t benefit the crabs. Horseshoe crabs are to be caught; bled with about 30% of their blood taken; and then returned to waters where they were found. But according to author Alexis Madrigal, “Between 10 and 30 percent of the bled animals, according to varying estimates, actually die.” In addition, “bleeding a female horseshoe crab may make it less likely to mate, even if it doesn’t kill it.” (The Blood Harvest, The Atlantic, Feb 26, 2014)

Environmental scientists John Tanacredi and Sixto Portilla say many crabs taken from NY waters to be bled are often not returned to NY. Research on horseshoe crabs from Brooklyn to Montauk from 2003 to 2014 showed that numerous crabs harvested in NY and taken to MA to be bled were often released in local Cape Cod waters, not NY as required by permits. “Many of those animals are re-harvested for bait and sold back to NY fishermen at an average cost of $5/crab.” (Horseshoe Crab Biology, Conservation and Management, 2015)

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South Beach on Raritan Bay Estuary, Staten Island, New York. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

IMPACTS OF HARVESTING HORSESHOE CRABS

It’s not an easy life in New York Harbor. The legal and illegal harvesting of horseshoe crabs, especially females, has limited their distribution and breeding, resulting in localized population declines. Horseshoe crabs could disappear locally if nothing is done to safeguard them in NY waters.

NJ instituted a moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs in 2007, but not NY where people can still harvest crabs. This puts the crab population under severe threat in the Lower New York, Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays.

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Tagged horseshoe crab. Photo by Joe Reynolds.

YOU CAN HELP!  

Please email both Governor Cuomo (click here) and the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (click here) to ask for greater protection of horseshoe crabs. NY State must restrict harvests in local waters, especially of female crabs. We need Albany to protect these prehistoric animals — before it’s too late.

Also, please share the plight of horseshoe crabs with friends and family. The more who are aware of the threat to horseshoe crabs, the more likely we can ensure their survival in the Raritan, Sandy Hook and Jamaica Bays.

If greater awareness and public support is coupled with greater conservation efforts, then these Ancient Mariners of New York Harbor can fill the beaches for many spring seasons to come. Let’s make sure they endure for another 450 million years!

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Fisherman at confluence of eastern shore of Cheesequake Creek Inlet with Raritan Bay, Raritan River Basin, New Jersey. Photo by Alison M. Jones. 

NWNL Recommended Reading:

 Safina, Carl. The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011. One hundred miles east of NY’s Manhattan, the author found a beach house that let him “see the whole world in the view from Lazy Point” – or at least the whole beauty and connected magic of the natural world in which we live. In this renowned conservationist’s observations and pleas for us to adopt a “sea ethos,” he tells of spawning, antedeluvian horseshoe crabs, bluefish, sea ducks and menhaden. He also weaves in tales from afar of brown bears and coral reefs to further deepen our appreciation of nature.

Sargent. Bill. Crab Wars: A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Bioterrorism and Human Health. Lebanon NH: University Press of New England, 2006. Social justice and ethics are raised by human medical needs for the blood of these crabs that evolved 300 million years ago. This is a tale of the conflicts between scientific progress and our dwindling natural resources.

For children, Grades 1-4: Crenson, Victoria. Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Foodweb. New York City: Two Lions, 2014. With charming watercolor illustrations, this book shares nature’s amazing connections between a small red-chested bird from the southern tip of S. America with the salty eggs of large, armored crabs on mid-North Atlantic beaches.

Joe Reynolds Recommended Reading:

Fredricks, Anthony D. Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor. Washington, DC: Ruka Press, 2012.

Cramer, Deborah. The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab & An Epic Journey. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

McCully, Betsy. City at the Water’s Edge: A Natural History of New York. New Haven, CT: Rivergate Press, 2006.

Waldman, John. Heartbeats in the Much. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2000.

MacKenzie, Clyde L. The Fisheries of Raritan Bay. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992. 

LNG Threat to Hudson and Raritan River Estuaries

November 3, 2015
LNG pipeline to cross the western Lower NY Bay, which is the Raritan Bay

LNG pipeline to cross western Lower NY Bay’s Raritan Bay

USA: Fishing in Raritan Bay off Sandy Hook right above proposed route for the LNG pipeline

Raritan Bay off Sandy Hook over proposed LNG pipeline route

NY/NJ Baykeeper is a strong voice fighting an LNG terminal (see definition below) that would threaten the biodiversity and water quality of the Hudson and Raritan River Estuary, one of the largest ports in the world. LNG usage, which furthers greenhouse gas emissions, is also a concern.

Dolphins swimming this summer just outside the Raritan Bay

Dolphins swimming this summer just outside the Raritan Bay

WHAT is Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)?

Liquefied Natural Gas is natural gas that has been super-chilled to minus 260 degrees, turning it into a liquid that is 1/600th the original volume of gas. It is clear, colorless, odorless, and extremely volatile. This gas is compacted so large volumes can be shipped overseas. LNG should not be confused with gasoline or compressed natural gas.

LNG is Expensive. The intensive energy use required to liquefy natural gas and shipping costs makes LNG up to three times more expensive than domestic natural gas.

LNG is Dirty. It results in up to 40% more greenhouse gas emissions than domestic natural gas due to a life cycle that requires super-cooling, transporting overseas in giant tankers, and heating back to gaseous form.

WHAT is Port Ambrose?
As proposed by Liberty Natural Gas (confusingly also called “LNG”),  “Port Ambrose” would be an offshore port for importing or exporting LNG to or from the coasts of New York and New Jersey. This port would allow two LNG vessels (which are as long as the World Trade Center Tower is tall) to directly connect to the region’s natural gas system, with a capacity that could be expanded.

Read more from the “Port Ambrose Fact Sheet: A Proposed Offshore Liquefied Natural Gas Facility”

PROTECT THIS ESTUARY and OUR OCEAN by supporting “The New Jersey/New York Clean Ocean Zone Act,” which is bi-partisan, bi-state legislation to permanently protect the waters off the NY/NJ coast from polluting activities and facilities, such as LNG ports.

USA: NY/NJ Baykeeper  headed downstream towards Middlesex County Landfill

NY/NJ Baykeeper , on the Raritan River, is actively fighting this Port Ambrose LNG proposal

An Educational Resource For Teachers: Exploring the New York New Jersey Harbor Estuary Region

WATER CONNECTS ALL

September 4, 2015

No Water – No Life!

Let’s protect it!

Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Theme: Connected.

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Happy Migratory Fish Species Day!

May 24, 2014

Kuki Gallmann, the first Ambassador for Migratory Species, has staged many celebrations of World Migratory Bird Day at her home in Kenya. NWNL Director was proud to attend the first of these joyful events. This year Kuki Gallmann released a video to mark World Migratory Bird Day. Her words (transcribed below by NWNL) apply equally to birds, fish and all migratory species.

KUKI GALLMANN: Back in 2006, when all over the world, migratory birds were killed, being accused of spreading the deadly avian flu. And they became a symbol of disease and death. I was proud to host the first ever World Migratory Bird Day on the Great Rift Valley of Kenya along the migratory route. At that time, artists from all over the world came to celebrate the beauty and magic, the mystery and freedom of the migratory birds.

On this very day, we’re far and wide. We spread the message of the importance of preserving these bridges amongst continents. I’m proud to add my voice as the first Ambassador for Migratory Species to the ones of my colleagues and friends, to children, to teachers, to conservationists across the globe. It is a time in which we have lost the link.

I recently received a message from a neighbor who asked me, “Where are the birds gone that used to travel to our lakes and watercourses?” We have interrupted their routes.   We have crisscrossed the skies with wires. We have threatened them by polluting the watercourses where they come after their long journeys.

International Celebration of World Migration Day hosted by Kuki Gallmann in Kenya, 2006.

International Celebration of World Migration Day hosted by Kuki Gallmann in Kenya, 2006.

We are killing the elephants – they’re also migratory. We are polluting the oceans. We have come to our senses before it is too late. At a time in which the world is divided, wars and many problems destroy peace on the planet. The migratory animals can be seen as ambassadors to peace. They don’t know about politics. They don’t know about religions. They don’t know about the small, short-time scheme of man. They’re a symbol of the superiority of nature over the menial things that destroy and pollute our own lives. I exhort the children particularly today, and my friends and colleagues across the Plant Earth to look again up at the sky at those amazing creatures flying over with endurance, with determination, guided by an ancient instinct stronger than we can explain and reestablish their evidence to respect and protect their habitat. All is connected.”

Thank you, Kuki, again for your eloquent and passionate support of migratory species.

NWNL on the Clinch River for World Rivers Day!

September 29, 2013

Did you know that more than 48 freshwater mussel species can be found in the Clinch Valley region?
The Clinch River flows through the southwestern tip of Virginia to join the Tennessee River which in turn joins the Ohio, a major tributary to the Mississippi.
Mussels purify the water and a single mussel can filter up to 1.25 gallons per hour!
So healthy mussels = healthy rivers.

At least 15 mussel species inhabiting these waters are on the federal endangered species list. NWNL Director and Lead Photographer, Alison M. Jones, is on the river documenting restoration efforts and interviewing water stewards. More updates from the field will be posted in the following weeks.

Read a related article in the NY Times about oysters filtering
river pollutants.

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Gorillas in Uganda: “Landscape Architects” of the White Nile River Headwaters

April 26, 2013

NWNL is excited to share ranger-guide Gad Kanyangyeyo’s photo of a 1-day old gorilla sent to NWNL this week, confirming Wildlife Conservation Society’s news six months ago that Bwindi Impenetrable NP’s gorilla population has grown by 33% since 2006.

Uganda, Nile River Basin, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, gorilla trek, baby gorilla with mother, photo by Gad Kanyangyeyo

Uganda, Nile River Basin, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, one-day-old baby gorilla with mother, photo by Gad Kanyangyeyo

This 25,000-year-old montane rainforest, with elevations from 3800 to 5553 feet, is in southwest Uganda’s western edge of the Great Rift Valley.   One of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth, this forest is a faucet for the White Nile River Basin and also supplies 80% of the water supply of the contiguous country of Rwanda.  Worldwide, Bwindi is renowned for having more than half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.

In 2010 Gad led our gorilla trek in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. On our 12-hour journey on foot through Bwindi’s 128-sq-miles of thick jungle and steep ravines, he explained that it is the presence of the gorillas as a human tourist attraction that has saved these forests of over 160 species of trees from becoming fields for crops.  Eons ago the forest apparently covered much of western Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and eastern Congo, but now it is only a small oasis in a dense rural area with more than 350 people per square kilometer.  Fortunately, because the endangered gorillas bring tourism dollars, Bwindi was set aside as a National Park in 1991.  Supported by collective efforts of Ugandan park staff, Bwindi’s surrounding communities such as Gad’s, local government and NGOs, the gorillas have become the conservation heroes of this source of White Nile waters, often called “The Place of Darkness.”

(Click on these photos to enlarge.)

Gad showed us how the gorillas are also the landscape architects of Bwindi, pointing out clumps of vines and branches where every night each troupe of gorillas tear down more vegetation for their families’ new overnight nests.  The gorillas’ daily opening up space in the forest’s canopy encourages the new growth that keeps Bwindi’s forest healthy.  Comparing this watershed with other NWNL case-study watersheds, the gorillas’ role in saving this dripping sponge of a forest is similar to the wolves’ role in Yellowstone in stopping elk from browsing riverine vegetation – and the rhinos’ and elephants’ roles in maintaining the savannas of the Mara River Basin.

No gorillas – no forest – no water – no life!

Uganda, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, walk to Munyaga Falls, ranger-guide Gad Kanyangyeyo and Alison M. Jones with WINGS flag

Uganda, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, walk to Munyaga Falls, ranger-guide Gad Kanyangyeyo and Alison M. Jones with WINGS expedition flag (fiscal sponsor for NWNL)

A passionate conservationist, Gad heard the NWNL story and mission and asked to be a Ugandan representative for NWNL as he involves community neighbors in conservation. What a great NWNL partner!   He is exuberant about the great diversity of flora and fauna that make this primeval montane forest a perennial faucet for the Albertine Nile.  He taught us that ferns, underfoot each step in Bwindi, were among the first pioneer flora on earth.  He identified cabbage trees (Anthocleista grandiflora) and pointed out the red cherry-like fruit and yellow-latex bark of  Symphonia globuliferae in the canopy.

Having now been a Bwindi ranger for 16 years, Gad wrote us that his passion for sharing and conserving this rainforest and its flora and fauna stems from his childhood experiences in this forest.  He outlined his story for NWNL to share:

When I was young, I used to travel with my older brothers, crisscrossing the forest of Bwindi – before it was protected as a national park (1991).   While smuggling goats, coffee and cows across the borders of Congo and Uganda, I learned the beauty of the forest.  In the forest, there was also gold mining and logging of timber.  We used to walk through the forest on logging roads carrying timber, which we put on the main road.  With that all experience, I loved the nature.  I was very much enjoying the forest.

These experiences were good enough to prepare me for my job now. Tourism here began in 1993; and since 1996 I have been working with the mountain gorillas under the Uganda Wildlife Authority.  I have received conservation training and have been working with the mountain gorillas of Uganda for 13 years.  I am now a conservation educator in Uganda because I like very much both plants and animals.  I educate visitors who come to see the gorillas and educate the local people about conservation.

(Click on these photos to enlarge.)

And this is the Bwindi legend Gad learned from childhood in the local Mukiga community:

The park is called Bwindi.  Bwindi is one of the richest forests in East Africa.  There are 150 bird species, 310 butterfly species, 324 tree species and 120 animal species.  Bwindi also has almost half of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.

But what is Bwindi generally?  Bwindi is a dense forest with a very interesting name that originated from a very beautiful lady.  Many years ago, people used to migrate from the south to the north of Uganda.  A family was crossing the forest.  They reached a big swamp and they weren’t able to cross it.  They spent two days waiting until a spirit told them to sacrifice one of their beautiful ladies.  Their beautiful lady was called BWINDI BWA NYINA MUKALI.  After the lady was sacrificed, the family got a chance to cross the swamp.  The tale about the sacrifice was spread all over the area about the NYINA MUKALI lady.  From that date the forest is called Bwindi.

NWNL thanks Gad for sharing his passionate love of plants and animals and stepping forward to become one of Uganda’s conservation educators working with the mountain gorillas of Uganda and the White Nile River Basin.

Read NWNL’s 2010 post from Bwindi and the rest of NWNL Uganda/White Nile Expedition blogs.

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