Horseshoe crabs disappearing off Odisha’s coast; scientists worried

Horseshoe crabs, one of the oldest living creatures on earth and medicinally priceless, 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 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, retired scientist of National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, appealed to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to place the horseshoe crabs on the list of marine species for which a Species Recovery Plan has to be developed.

Dr. Chatterjee first discovered horseshoe crabs along Balasore coast and brought the species to the State’s notice in 1987.

“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.

“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.

Medicinal value

The blood of this crab is very important for the preparation of rapid diagnostic reagents. All injectable medicines are tested on them. Dr. Chatterjee said a molecule has been developed from a reagent of horseshoe crab to help treat pre-eclampsia.

The scientist said only a few countries in the world have horseshoe crab population and India is one among them. “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 earth 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 effort now, horseshoe crabs would not be found in India in next few years,” he warned.

In a letter to Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), Dr. Choudhary suggested that the horseshoe crab’s breeding grounds be declared as a conservation reserve to protect the species.