delware environmental institute

New York Times: A bird, a crab and a shared fight to survive

New York Times: A bird, a crab and a shared fight to survive

Like clockwork, the red knots arrive every spring, descending on the beaches of Delaware Bay to feast for a few weeks on horseshoe crab eggs and, in the process, double their body weight. The knots are delicate, robin-size shorebirds named for their salmon coloration and renowned for their marathon migration — more than 9,000 miles each way, from the southern tip of South America to the Canadian Arctic.

That migration is fueled by an ancient synchronicity — the spawning of billions of tiny green horseshoe crab eggs just as the knots and their prodigious appetites arrive — that is now threatened. Largely because of the overfishing of horseshoe crabs for bait (they are a favorite of conch fishermen), the East Coast red knot population has plummeted. Their numbers have dropped from more than 100,000 in the 1980s to only about 30,000 today, and wildlife biologists in New Jersey worry that without stronger protections, they could vanish. But that depends on the crabs.