Older than dinosaurs, horseshoe crabs have survived plenty. But human impact may be the threat that could wash them out of the Atlantic.
For more than 350 million years, these living fossils have crawled ashore underneath the light of a full moon and laid their eggs in the sand. These hard-shelled crustaceans are a keystone species, making them vital to the ecosystem. Their eggs are a critical food source for many migratory shorebirds, and their ocean floor walks rototill the bottom, keeping the seafloor healthy.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission reports horseshoe crabs were hunted heavily from the 1800s to the early 1900s, with catches averaging from 1 to a whopping 5 million crabs a year. Total catch numbers dwindled over time, all the way down to 42,000 crabs by the 1960s. However, millions more were being harvested unreported and at a detriment to the horseshoe crab’s survival.
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