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Horseshoe crabs and their medical contributions threatened

Delaware Center for the Inland Bays
CIB interns Sydney Messick and Samantha Pringle (shown here left to right) conducting a the horseshoe crab survey in spring of 2020

Horseshoe crabs have been around since before the time of the dinosaurs.

And their blood is absolutely vital to keeping everything we inject into the human body safe from toxins.

Delaware Public Media’s Roman Battaglia this week takes a look at horseshoe crabs’ role in areas like vaccine development, and efforts to protect their declining population with Glenn Gauvry, founder of the Ecological Research and Development Group, and The Center for the Inland Bays’ Zach Garmoe.

Horseshoe crabs have existed since before the dinosaurs, and their unique blue blood is used by pharmaceutical companies to test for toxins in various medical products.

The harvesting of the crab’s blood has become much more regulated in the Atlantic Ocean, where most crabs return to the sea after donating some of their blood. But in Asia, populations continue to decline because of over-harvesting.

Glenn Gauvry is the founder of the Ecological Research and Development Group, a Delaware based organization focused solely on protecting Horseshoe crabs.

“I mean this animal’s been around for 470 million years, it really doesn’t need humans to help it survive, it just needs humans to get out of its way. It’s kind of a misconception that we don’t come in and save it. We need to come and save it to the extent that we are causing a problem with its survival.”

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One of the biggest factors threatening horseshoe crabs here in Delaware is habitat destruction. The crabs spend most of their lives in the ocean depths, but come up to the sandy beaches to lay their eggs.

Zach Garmoe is a science technician with the Center for the Inland Bays. He says restoring shorelines to their natural state will help conserve these living fossils.

“Because these sandy beaches are the only place that they can reproduce, there’s only so much of that that’s around in the inland bays. And so being able to recreate that with our living shorelines is a really important piece of this puzzle here as it allows us to give them more space to reproduce.”

The Center for the Inland Bays conducts an annual Horseshoe crab survey to help guide regulations and policies surrounding these animals that are used extensively by the fishing and pharmaceutical industries.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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