Monday, March 12, 2012

Red Knots Move from Threatened to Endangered

Red Knot in summer breeding plumage
Photo: Heather Forcier/AP via The Daily News
It's not a good sign that the Red Knot shorebird has joined the the New Jersey endangered wildlife list. This migratory shorebird was recently designated as an endangered species by the NJ Department of Environment Protection.Previously, the species was in the lower category of threatened wildlife. Unfortunately, the new NJDEP  designation is more of a warning than a "law" and it does not add any additional protection for the species.

The New Jersey side of Delaware Bay is a critical stopover feeding location on their flight from the coast of Brazil in South America to the Arctic. On a single day, perhaps 90% of the entire migrating population can be on a New Jersey beach.

horseshoe crabs moving ashore to lay eggs
They arrive in NJ emaciated and need to feed on the once more plentiful horseshoe crab eggs in order to have the required energy store to complete their migration.

The Red Knot migrates more than 10,000 miles a year to the Delaware Bay, so it is certainly a tough species. Nevertheless, its migratory population has been steadily in decline. How much of a decline? Since the early 1990s, it is estimated that the Delaware Bay population has gone from 100,000 to 15,000 which is almost a 90% decrease.

A critical issue in this story is the parallel decline in the horseshoe crab eggs in the Delaware Bay. The harvesting of the horseshoe crab eggs for fishing bait is one of the key problems in the Red Knot population crisis. NJ is actually given more credit for attempting to decrease that harvesting as compared to other surrounding states.

In a NY Daily News article, Dave Jenkins, bureau chief for the Endangered and Nongame Species Program, said that “In New Jersey, we are already doing everything we can. But this needs to be unified.” said Jenkins. “The species is also in a crucial one-year process for being listed as endangered at the federal level, and the New Jersey field office is definitely taking a lead on that. But if this population trend continues, it is possible that extinction is imminent."

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