Posts Tagged ‘endangered species’

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. 

Botswana’s Okavango Delta: UNESCO’s 1000th World Heritage Site!

July 9, 2014

A place as extraordinary as the Okavango Delta certainly deserves to be designated as a World Heritage Site – and finally it is!  As #1000 on that list, it’s one of NWNL’s favorite natural landscapes and wetlands ecosystem. You can see why in the photos. It’s literally an oasis in an arid country with no access to the sea. The Okavango River swells to three times its size during seasonal flooding, attracting one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife, including many endangered species. No Water – No Life!

Related reading: https://www.iucn.org/?16018/Iconic-Okavango-Delta-becomes-1000th-World-Heritage-site

http://www.okavangowildernessproject.org/

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

Today is Endangered Species Day

May 17, 2013

2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Federal Endangered Species Act!  NWNL would like to share photos of endangered species around the world which we have been lucky enough to encounter. Click on photos above for species information and check out our photoshelter galleries to see lots more!

Photos © Alison M. Jones

White Nile River Basin Exped. – Kibale Forest NP

April 3, 2010

Welcome to #7 in a series of blogs written by Alison Jones before her departure to Uganda and Kenya as NWNL’s lead photographer.

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Date: Sat–Sun, 3–4 April 2010 /Entry 7
Reporter: Alison M. Jones
Location: Kibale Forest National Park

The 776 sq-km Kibale Forest NP is full of lakes, marshes and grasslands and offers both swamp and forest walks. It’s Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary claims 335 bird species. The forest is habitat to the rare giant forest hog and forest elephant. The forested slopes of lowland tropical rainforest, deciduous forest and mountain forests are perfect for the world’s highest concentration of primates, including 500 chimps, red colobus, L’Hoest’s monkey and 11 other primates. A field of crater lakes lies between Fort Portal and Kibale Forest and there is a superb community development fringing the park. This will be an excellent opportunity for NWNL to document the importance of forests and wetlands to a watershed.

From the field: Kibale National Park comprises both forests and wetlands – key components for tourism, employment and cash flow for communities near such “protected” areas. Ugandan President Museveni requested this month that Africa’s Great Lakes countries protect their wetlands and forests to stem the spread of the desert. He said this was needed to insure future abundance of water needed to help generate hydro-power for industry and reduce the cost of doing business. He also noted transboundary impacts of regional ecosystems on weather: “There are swamps in Southern Sudan called sudds and there are forests in the D.R. Congo that are key in the rain-making process in Uganda.” These regional wetlands and forests, the president claims, contribute up to 40% of the rains in Uganda.

In many parts of Uganda, buildings and farmland now cover former wetlands. It is said that during the dictatorship of Idi Amin caution and the wisdom of elders was thrown to the wind as wetlands were transformed into roads, houses and industrial zones ignoring all planning laws and enforcement agencies.

With this in mind, NWNL documented how Kibale’s wetland sanctuary provides habitat to primates and birds that help disperse indigenous seeds, as well as water for the local people. Although residents have been advised to boil their water, many believe that the swamp water tastes better and has more nutrient value than boiled water. NWNL will pursue the health implications of this local belief.

Kibale National Park’s forest has been spit into two sections due to demand for land for tea farming. Another sign of industry affecting this forest ecosystem was found in the constant cloud of large heavy trucks hauling rock to the Hima cement factory. Kibale District has lost half of its forest cover over the last 20 or so years. Stakeholders are now working to reverse this trend. Last year the National Forest Authority evicted hundreds of illegal squatters, however politicians immediately over-ruled that action and allowed re-occupation of Kibale District forests.

Forests throughout Uganda are suffering from illegal logging and the growing demand for charcoal and firewood. Even though prices for wood and charcoal have probably tripled, this fuel is still cheaper than metered electricity. Thus far, promotion of solar cookers or more efficient charcoal burners has not been very successful. NWNL looks forward to its end-of-expedition meetings in Kampala with stakeholders to learn about the government’s follow-up on recent proclamations that it supports afforestation and resettlement of villages on mountain slopes prone to fatal mudslides that are becoming more frequent.

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