Fewer red knots are showing up on Mid-Atlantic beaches because the horse shoe crab population is dwindling, according to scientists via the New York Times.
Where have the crabs gone? They're taken by people, chopped up and sold as bait to catch whelks. Many people eat whelks apparently.
Ok, this is not good news. Kind of depressing, actually, which is not the intention of this blog. But it is a teaching moment about balance, and besides, loss can be a motivator, which is one goal of this blog.
For many thousands of years, the horseshoe crabs have laid thousands of eggs on the water's edge. Meanwhile, red knots, skinny little birds who make an epic journey every year from top of the world to bottom, stop by on the same beaches. They eat lots of horse shoe crab eggs. So do many other marine birds.
There's always just enough horse shoe crab eggs to ensure plenty of baby crabs, and just enough eggs to fatten gaunt red knots and sustain them to their Arctic destination. What a nicely balanced equation.
Enter man...and boom, we see fewer horse show crabs and thus, fewer red knots.
“The recovery of the birds can’t really start until there are more crabs. We can’t wait decades. We need more crab eggs now," said Lawrence J. Niles, a biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey in the New York Times.
Red knots and nature-lovers aside, horse shoe crabs' blood provides valuable medicines including an important test for new drugs and cancer fighting agents. The blood can be extracted without killing the ancient creature.
What can you do? Contact and keep in touch with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets horse shoe crab fishing limits. Let them know you value horse crabs as something more than bait. Avoid eating whelk and tell people why.