Gateway National Recreation Area is showing some respect to Earth’s elders.
Park officials are intensifying efforts to stop the illegal capture of horseshoe crabs—an animal whose time on this planet predates the dinosaurs.
Park Police have already increased maritime and land patrols in the Jamaica Bay area along the eastern shore of Staten Island, strictly enforcing the federal law that prohibits taking horseshoe crabs in national parks.
Anyone caught crab-handed will be subject to a fine and/or arrest and prosecution.
“There’s no question they deserve to be protected,” said Gateway General Superintendent Barry Sullivan. “And if they can’t be protected in a national park, where can they?”
New signs have been installed along the park’s shoreline to inform the unaware, and park staff will be conducting outreach to local marinas and surrounding neighborhoods.
The metropolitan area’s largest natural park boasts thousands of acres of water where it is entirely legal to fish.
But many people break the law when catch and remove horseshoe crabs from the park.
Horseshoe crabs are not classified as fish or crustaceans. They are more closely related to spiders and ticks than crabs.
But as far as the national park is concerned, they are considered “wildlife.”
“These animals are among the oldest creatures on Earth,” Sullivan said. “Their ability to survive and adapt for over 400 million years may one day reveal incredible scientific knowledge, especially for the field of human medical research.”
Horseshoe crabs are already valued by medical researchers for substances found in them possessing antibiotic, antiviral and anti-cancer properties.
Their copper-based blood, which clots around bacterial invaders, is extracted and used to test for the purity of medicines.
Horseshoe crab blood is worth roughly $15,000 a quart, according to the Mid-Atlantic Sea Grant Programs/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The effort to protect horseshoe crabs will also help migratory birds, who rely on the crab eggs as their primary food source.
A diminished horseshoe crab population has in turn dropped the numbers of 11 different bird species, according to Gateway.
This month and next, the park will expand its ranger led Horseshoe Crab Walks, which give visitors a look at the crabs annual mating ritual. More information is available at www.nps.gov/gate.