Horseshoe crabs, medicinally priceless and one of oldest living creatures on the earth, appear to be disappearing from their familiar spawning grounds along Chandipur and Balaramgadi coast in Odisha’s Balasore district.
Scientists have urged Odisha government to immediately come up with a robust protection mechanism before the living fossil becomes extinct due to destructive fishing practices.
Professor B.C. Choudhury, Member of Odisha State Wildlife Advisory Board, and Anil Chatterjee, a retired scientist of National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa appealed that the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change must place the Horseshoe crabs in the list of marine species for which a Species Recovery Plan has to be developed.
Dr. Chatterjee, who had first discovered Horseshoe crabs along Balasore coast and brought the species to State government’s notice in 1987, said India has two species of Horseshoe crabs and major concentration of the animal is found in Odisha.
“When we used to come to Odisha in 1988-89, the population of Horseshoe crab was very high. In 200 square metre area, we were getting 30 to 40 specimens. Last month, I had been to Balasore, I found there were hardly any of such animals,” he said.
“There are two to three major issues causing threat to Horseshoe crabs. Because of unregulated fishing activities, their spawning activities are affected. Like Olive Ridley Sea turtles, these crabs are basically deep sea animals. They come to coasts of Balasore in Odisha and Digha and Sundarban in West Bengal for breeding purposes. They select a suitable site for laying their eggs. Unfortunately, those eggs are also damaged by local people,” lamented the scientist.
He elaborated, “day by day, the population of the blue blood crabs are decreasing. After 10 years, there will not be any Horseshoe crab in India. It is such an important animal that all COVID-19 vaccines were tested against blood of Horseshoe crabs to ascertain if the vaccine was free from any contamination.”
Dr. Chatterjee said, “it was puzzling as to why governments were not serious about protecting the animal. In Japan, Horseshoe crabs were exploited in large scale. Now, hardly few thousands of animals are there. The Japanese government has imposed complete ban on Horseshoe crab fishing and they have declared the animal as an endangered species.”
The blood of Horseshoe crab is very important for preparation of rapid diagnostic reagent. All injectable and medicines are tested with the help of Horseshoe crabs. Dr. Chatterjee said a molecule has been developed from reagent of Horseshoe crab that would help treat pre-eclampsia and lives of many babies could be saved in womb itself.
The scientist said only few countries in the world have Horseshoe crab population and Indian in one among them. Maximum density of Horseshoe crabs is found along the Odisha coast and Balasore used to be the largest spawning ground. Sporadic nesting grounds are noticed in coasts of Dhamra, Bhitarkanika, Hukitola, Barahajaria, Choudahajaria and some villages apart from the popular sites of Balasore and Balaramgadi in Odisha.
“This is the oldest living creature on earth. Palaeontological studies say the age of Horseshoe crabs is 450 million years. The creature has lived on earthy without undergoing any morphological change. Scientists are surprised to find strong immune system in animal that helped it survive millions of years. The animal is critical for human health. If we don’t put any efforts now, Horseshoe crabs would not be found in India in next few years,” Dr. Chatterjee warned..
In a letter addressed to Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), Dr. Choudhary, a veteran researcher on Olive Ridley Turtles and now with Wildlife Trust of India, said, “Horseshoe crabs which used to breed en mass like the Olive Ridley Turtles along the Chandipur and Balaramgadi Coast In Balasore are no longer found there but for an occasional specimen and dead shells.”
“I came to know that Horseshoe crab have relocated at different beach along the Balasore coast. The Forest department must take steps so that they are not disturbed. It may be necessary to revisit the new breeding ground and before the destructive fishing practice reaches there to declare the area as a conservation reserve to protect the Horseshoe Crabs,” he said.