The red knot, a shorebird that needs a big feast of horseshoe crab eggs to fatten up for its migration, is so critically endangered that it needs emergency protection, conservation groups told the federal government this week.
At issue is how many horseshoe crabs are harvested from the waters of Delaware Bay. The annual and amazing migration of red knots sees flocks descend mid-way on their 9,300-mile one-way journey from Chile to the Canadian Arctic to eat the ancient crab's eggs. As horseshoe crab numbers have declined, so have red knot numbers. Studies have shown red knots don't fatten up as much as they used to there, and as such, are too weak to complete their migration and reproduce successfully. Conservation groups have argued for additional fishing restrictions for horseshoe crabs, which are harvested in small numbers for medical uses and larger numbers for bait to catch other fish.
"The Endangered Species Act has repeatedly proven that with its resources and conservation tools, even the most imperiled birds, such as the California Condor and Whooping Crane, can recover and thrive once again," said Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy's Executive Director of Conservation Advocacy. "We urge the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Department of Interior to address the imminent danger of extinction facing the red knot, and enact our emergency listing petition without delay."
The letter follows a new report that details a "rapid and ongoing" decline of red knots in the Western Hemisphere.
"The science was clear years ago that the red knot faces imminent extinction yet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to list this bird. The causes of the red knot's decline have only gotten worse in the two years since that decision. The most recent information leaves no doubt that the Service should list it immediately," said Jason Rylander, staff attorney, Defenders of Wildlife.
Horseshoe crabs are themselves a marvel of evolution, having survived on earth far longer than humans. Their evolutionary path has, however, been useful to humans, as their odd immune system has provided medical science compounds that have proved both unique and useful. Whether or not the red knot, too, with one of the most impressive migrations in the animal kingdom, holds some special compound that might aid humanity is unknown.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.