Signs of hope: are our environmental efforts making a difference?

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Last week I took a bit of a break after my hectic market schedule to visit my folks. I was raised on the Jersey "shore" as it is termed in the Garden State/Philadelphia area. I have been a bird watcher since the age of 8 starting with my magazine drive prize fold-down opera glasses. Once home and without  any responsibilities (except providing a good appetite for my mother's cooking), I am emersed in my beloved hobby.  Of particular interest in the Delaware Bay area is a shorebird called the red knot rufa.  This beautiful bird's story is interesting because it is linked to the prehistoric looking horseshoe crab.  The red knot has one of the longest yearly migrations of any bird, traveling 15,000 km from its Artic breeding grounds to Tierra del Fuego in southern South America.

Every May, they stop at the Delaware Bay, emaciated to bulk up on the fat rich eggs of the horseshoe crabs which are just then coming ashore to spawn.  The birds need to double their weight in about 10 days to make it to the Arctic in time to breed and get out before the late summer snows. It is reported that 90% of the entire population may be present in a single day in the Delaware Bay staging area feeding on the eggs. Because of the decline of the horseshoe crab which was heavily harvested in the 1990's, the birds once numbering close to 100,000 have dropped to 15,000.  In what officials said was the first time a species not in trouble was regulated to help another that was, horseshoe crab harvest restrictions have been enacted.  Despite this conservation effort neither the crabs nor the birds have shown a comeback.  Biologists fear the red knots could plummet into extinction with an event as simple as a summer snowstorm in the Artic or an oil spill in South America.  Researchers were just wrapping up their observations and data while I was visiting.  For the first time in a decade, 60% of the red knots they banded reached their optimum weight due in part to excellent weather and an abundance of horseshoe crab eggs.  Preliminary counts do not show an increase in numbers but perhaps as the migration continues with the proper ingredients for breeding, we may see environmental efforts make a difference.

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