The Most Ancient New Yorkers
“I love my crabs” says Dorothy “Dottie” Werkmeister when I ask her why she does it. Dottie has been site coordinator for Big Egg in Queens for the Horseshoe Crab monitoring and tagging program organized by Cornell University since 2009. Every high tide from May to the beginning of July, the Horseshoe Crabs, the most ancient living New Yorkers, mate on the Atlantic coast beaches. Every year when there is full or new moon, squads of volunteers team up to count and tag them in seven different sites throughout three NYC boroughs.
If you have used contact lenses, had a flu shot or used any medicinal drugs it was made possible by Horseshoe Crabs, since their blood is used to test for bacteria contamination. These survivors are in trouble, in 2016 Horseshoe Crab population was listed in the IUCN Red List as vulnerable. The population’s main threats are unsustainable harvesting and climate change. Horseshoe Crabs are harvested for baiting eels and conches, as well as for biomedical use. Climate change is serious too. Most of the sites were already heavily affected by the superstorm Sandy and by 2100 it is estimated that some of the sites where the monitoring is currently held are going to be underwater. The scientific data collected during the monitoring and tagging will help to better comprehend the management of the sites and the conservation of the species.
“They lived 450 million years” Phil Cusimano, site coordinator at Plumb Beach, Brooklyn, says “they survived five extinction eras, and we are here to find out if they are going to survive the last one.”