Mystic, Conn. (May 9, 2017): For the last several nights, Mystic Aquarium and their Citizen Scientists have scouted the area of Bluff Point State Park in Groton in search of horseshoe crabs. This is part of the annual monitoring of the species that is proving to be beneficial to state agencies, conservationists and scientists.
During May and June, thousands of horseshoe crabs gather on gently sloping beaches to reproduce and lay eggs in the sand. This happens during high tide when the moon is full or dark.
For over 10 years, Mystic Aquarium has partnered with community organizations to support the collection of horseshoe crab population data for Sacred Heart University’s Project Limulus, so-named for the genus of horseshoe crab found in the Atlantic Ocean. More than 2,500 individuals have participated in evening population counts, midnight tagging events and marine debris removal activities.
Horseshoe crabs are often termed “living fossils” because their lineage dates back 450 million years. Despite their legacy, there are major threats facing these species. Threatened by bait harvesting, habitat destruction, and land-based predators, the horseshoe crab population across New England has been dramatically diminished over the last several decades.
“Fortunately, many scientists, regulators, school children and adults are acting to save this species,” said MaryEllen Mateleska, Director of Education & Conservation at Mystic Aquarium, who is among the staunchest protectors of horseshoe crabs. “Mystic Aquarium is a proud convener of these groups.”
Horseshoe crab populations in Connecticut are primarily impacted by these same threats.
“Sadly, over the past three years, a marked increase in dead horseshoe crabs have been found during population study counts at Bluff Point,” said Mateleska.
Bluff Point is the only sizeable, mostly undeveloped public coastal land remaining in the state.
This ancient species is critical to the future survival of seabirds, turtles and other marine life.
Horseshoe crabs’ eggs play an important role as food for migrating shorebirds. Additionally, vaccines, injectable drugs, intravenous solutions, and implantable medical devices, both for humans and animals, are quality-checked for safety using a test that comes from the blood of horseshoe crabs. As demand for these animals increase, scientists are looking to ensure that the horseshoe crab population is stable.
“This collaboration between professionals and the public allows for significantly more data on species distribution, mortality and human impact from that of a single research team could possibly compile on its own,” added Mateleska.
As both demand for these animals and mortality increase, scientists and Citizen Scientists are looking to ensure that the horseshoe crab population remains stable. In response, Mystic Aquarium is partnering with Project Limulus and Charles River Laboratories to elevate local horseshoe crab conservation efforts by bringing increased awareness, through educational events and ongoing research and development projects, the pivotal role horseshoe crabs play in our ecosystem and the valuable contribution they make to biomedical research community.
“In the case of the Atlantic horseshoe crab, every year there seems to be more notoriety surrounding this remarkable species,” said Mateleska. “Whether you are an animal lover or a private non-profit such as Mystic Aquarium, we invite you to help get the word out about these amazing creatures, the role they play in our daily lives, and what we can do to protect them.”
Mateleska and her team of Citizen Scientists will be out again tomorrow night, Wednesday, May 10, to continue this important work. To learn more, email educationinfo@MysticAquarium.org.
About Mystic Aquarium
Mystic Aquarium, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, is counted among the nation’s leading aquariums with more than 300 species and an extensive collection of marine mammals, including New England’s only belugas. Mystic Aquarium has been a pioneer in offering guests a variety of up-close encounters with a wide range of marine animals. The mission of Mystic Aquarium is to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through conservation, education and research. Mystic Aquarium receives major support from The Coca-Cola Company, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Resorts World Sentosa and United Technologies Corporation. Learn more at MysticAquarium.org.