Annual Horseshoe Crab Festival is a Hit

 Annual Horseshoe Crab Festival is a Hit

By Don Riepe

Horseshoe crabs have been around for over 400 million years and come ashore once a year (mid-May to mid-June) to mate and lay eggs at the high tide area. About 120 people attended the Annual Horseshoe Crab Festival held at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, June 8. I was glad to see that there were many families with kids who came to see the ‘living dinosaurs’ that actually predate the dinosaurs in the fossil record.

Although fierce looking, they are harmless animals that come ashore once a year to lay billions of eggs along the shorelines of Jamaica Bay. I read that they wait for the water temperature to reach 64 degrees F. – although I prefer 80! These eggs provide critical food for the thousands of shorebirds that are migrating through NYC at the same time. One bird in particular, the red knot, travels non-stop from Brazil to the northeastern U.S. and needs this rich resource to build up enough body fat (i.e. fuel) to make it to their breeding grounds in the northern tundra region.

Overharvesting for bait and the medical industry has negatively impacted horseshoe crabs to the point that they are listed as Federally Endangered. The crab’s bluish, copper-based blood has a sensitive clotting factor when exposed to minute traces of pathogens and is used to detect impurities in human blood serum. There is a synthetic alternative for testing vaccines, etc. that we hope the FDA approves for use in the U.S. that will alleviate the pressure on using horseshoe crab blood.  As for chopping them up as bait for eels and conch, we need to find an alternative for that as well. Hopefully these interesting animals will be around for the next great extinction and survive that as well! The ‘crabs’ (actually more closely related to spiders) are protected in Jamaica Bay by mandate from the Superintendent of Gateway NRA. No harvesting is allowed.

In some recent good news, New York’s Assembly and Senate recently passed a bill that would prohibit the harvesting of horseshoe crabs from all the waters of New York for commercial and biomedical purposes. Hopefully Governor Kathy Hochul does the right thing and signs this important legislation so it can take effect.

This yearly Horseshoe Crab Festival is a partnership with NYC Audubon, JBRPC, NPS, NYCDPR, and the American Littoral Society.

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