Ever see this activity? Write it down and file it online to help the horseshoe crab thrive
Horseshoe crabs' blood can detect bacteria and it is under threat in South Florida by habitat loss, red tide, and pollution so scientists are asking beachgoers to help.
It's easy to see what horseshoe crabs are often busy doing on South Florida shorelines, but less apparent is that the ubiquitous creature saves an untold number of lives every year.
In its blood is a substance that scientists use to ensure medical equipment and medicines are free from illness-causing bacteria. It is the most sensitive bacteria-indicating substance ever discovered, and also the most expensive liquid on the planet with a gallon selling for as much as $60,000.
Harvesting horseshoe crabs for their blood, coupled with polluted coastal waters, habitat loss, fishing, warming seas, and red tide blooms, is putting the species at such peril that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has put the creatures on its vulnerable list.
"Horseshoe crabs are extremely important ecologically. They play a significant role in the ecosystem," said Armando Ubeda, a scientist with Florida Sea Grant. "Since we don’t know how the population in Florida are doing that’s the reason we want to inventory them because they are an important component of the ecosystem and they are extremely valuable for society."
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is one of several state and federal agencies working to keep the horseshoe crab from moving any closer to a listing for protections under the American Endangered Species Act.
Reports from beachgoers is one of the main ways the commission is gathering information about the South Florida population of the horseshoe crab, which is actually related to spiders, scorpions, and mites rather than shellfish.
Everyday folks reporting horseshoe crab sightings at an online survey provides valuable information to the FWC about their habitat use, population distribution and environmental conditions for nesting.
Horseshoe crabs have seen dinosaurs rise and fall as the species has existed more than 450 million years, yet scientists are still learning about Florida’s populations.
The Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch Program is tapping beachgoers willing to carry a notepad and pencil to help biologists learn more. That includes where the crabs are found, how many are around, and what they’re doing, which is quite often mating.
The amount of information the volunteers collect about the ancient creatures, which is reported online, is far more than scientists can gather alone.
Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health.
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