Fighting for the Horseshoe Crab

By Laura SchmidtHAUPPAUGE — At a meeting Tuesday, June 12, the HIA-LI Environmental/Green Industries Committee discussed the possibility of Fire Island becoming a World Heritage site to further protect and monitor its shores and numerous species that inhabit it, particularly the horseshoe crab.It’s no question that Fire Island has a great deal to offer the public. It contains natural phenomena, significant geomorphic features, biological diversity and much more. To designate Fire Island as a World Heritage site would ensure better preservation and monitoring of these unique characteristics.In the meeting, Co-chairs Lilia Factor and Tom Fox introduced Irving Like, Esq. and Dr. John Tanacredi. A longtime resident of Dunewood, Like was an environmental attorney years before the term was even coined. His credentials include being former counsel to Fire Island National Seashore Citizens Committee, Suffolk County in the decommissioning of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant and Nassau and Suffolk counties in the Mid-Atlantic offshore oil drilling cases; and former chair of the Law Committees for the Agent Orange lawsuit. Tanacredi is director of Center for Environmental Research and Coastal Oceans Monitoring (CERCOM) at Molloy College.“The existential threat today is climate change and rising sea levels,” Like said. “If not dealt with, this will result in the devastation of not only Fire Island but other coastal areas that are particularly vulnerable.”To get on the list to become a World Heritage site, appointed by UNESCO, a location must satisfy at least one of its 10 criteria. Fire Island National Seashore checks off five of the criteria because of its historic, geological and ecological importance. According to Like, becoming a World Heritage site wouldn’t alter how the island is managed or any future plans whatsoever.As a World Heritage site, Fire Island would have the opportunity to provide better protection and conservation to North American horseshoe crabs found on the sandy shores each summer.These omnivorous scavengers are extremely important to the island’s ecosystem. Their eggs serve as a source of food for tens of millions of birds migrating through the area in the spring because each female horseshoe crab can lay between 80,000 to 120,000 eggs every year.“They come back to the exact same place to breed each year,” Tanacredi said. “If there’s no habitat there, you can do all the captive breeding you want, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have a habitat to put them back into, they’re gone.”Horseshoe crab blood is a phenomenon in the world of medicine. Copper-based and blue, its blood can be used to detect endotoxins in the human body faster than any replication scientists have attempted to create. For this reason, horseshoe crabs are often taken from their habitat, bled out and released back to where they were taken. However, the creatures aren’t always properly handled after the bleeding process and many die or are simply discarded.Waters off Long Island hold some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, according to Tanacredi. The preservation of the island’s ecosystem wouldn’t benefit only horseshoe crabs but a whole variety of species.“When you preserve habitat, you don’t just preserve horseshoe crabs and their eggs and the birds that feed on them,” Tanacredi said. “You preserve every organism that lives in the estuary.”This includes bunker, striped bass, blue claw crabs, clams, algae and other important organisms. FINS rangers have reported poaching is an ongoing concern when it comes to horseshoe crabs in our local waters. The designation of Fire Island National Seashore as World Heritage site would provide stronger maintenance on the island and allow for more in depth scientific research to be conducted in estuaries and on the coast.“Fire Island is so culturally diverse from one end of the island to the other,” Like said. “People who disagree on various ideological grounds, when it comes to protecting Fire Island, they unite together.”