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Story Tools

Date of Issue: November 15, 2007

Sandscript

Dumb, dumb, dumb folks out there harming our critters

This is a tale of stupidity beyond belief.

And it’s a story that makes me very, very angry.

Marv Cadmus lives in Holmes Beach, and likes to walk his dog along the shore of Palma Sola Causeway most nights.

He called The Islander last week to tell us he’s noticed a lot of tire tracks of what looks to the former deputy sheriff to be pickup trucks running along the surf line on the causeway. Amidst the tracks are the shattered shells of horseshoe crabs.

More disturbing, according to Marv, are the horseshoe crabs that apparently have been speared by a broomstick or similar-sized device.

Horseshoe crabs come ashore this time of year to mate. No, they aren’t endangered, but they’re an important part of our ecosystem. Related more closely to spiders than anything else in the watery world, they’re pretty much unchanged for something like 250 million years.

The dinner-plate-size brown critters hang out in our waters year-long. When they get frisky, generally in the spring and fall, they come close to a beach and lay a slew of eggs.

As a little Roat, I noticed that Price’s Key at the mouth of Palma Sola Bay was a prime breeding and hatching ground for horseshoe crabs. The place was full of girl and guy crabs. FYI, the bigger crabs are females.

So who in their right mind would want to crunch these critters? Don’t we care about what’s going on out in our world?

“There are tire tracks up and down the beach,” Marv said. “The full length of the beach. There are holes in the horseshoe crabs the size of broom handles. What would be the reason to run through the water? It hurts me.”

It hurts me, too.

Jeez, people. What’s going on?

Northern yuck causing local ick?

A recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hints that Southwest Florida red tide blooms out in the Gulf of Mexico may be spurred by nutrients coming from the Mississippi River.

“Algal blooms form on the Florida coast because of weather and Gulf currents,” according to the NOAA computer model reports. “The algae grow offshore, supplied with additional nutrients that appear to have originated from the Mississippi River, in a process driven by normal seasonal wind patterns.

“We found that the concentrations of nutrients needed to start the Florida red tides is much lower than previously suspected," said NOAA oceanographer Dr. Richard Stumpf. "The hypothesis means that offshore areas should be examined for both small increases in nutrients and modest concentrations of the algae at the start of the bloom season."

As we all know, the algal blooms aren’t a good thing locally. Besides the death of marine life - sea turtles, dolphins, manatees and all manner of fish - a red tide outbreak will wreak havoc to beachgoers’ throats and lungs, causing caught and sneezing and what is demurely referred to as “respiratory distress.”

It’s a pain in the throat, in other words, and NOAA says that red tide blooms have a direct impact of about $75 million annually to the United States, a figure that seems very, very conservative.

For the Gulf stuff, NOAA says, “While outflow from the Mississippi River travels westward most of the year, early summer prevailing winds carry it eastward, bringing nutrients, especially nitrogen, toward Florida. The nutrients then settle into deeper water, where they are taken up by the algae. The blooms, of the red tide species Karenia brevis, start on the shelf, and are brought onshore and concentrated by the prevailing wind patterns of late summer and fall.”

NOAA is working with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota to test the hypothesis of the downstream flow.

Hey, remember the old saying of “everything flows downhill?” Consider the Mississippi uphill.

Sandscript factoid

According to an Internet Web site:

A horseshoe crab's tail, while menacing, is not a weapon. Instead, the tail is used to plow the crab through the sand and muck, to act as a rudder, and to right the crab when it accidentally tips over.

The horseshoe crab's central mouth is surrounded by its legs and, while harmless, it is advisable to handle a horseshoe crab with care since you could pinch your fingers between the two parts of its shell while holding it.

Horseshoe crabs have two compound eyes on the top of their shells with a range of about 3 feet. The eyes are used for locating mates.

Horseshoe crabs can swim upside down in the open ocean using their dozen legs (most with claws) and a flap hiding nearly 200 flattened gills to propel themselves.

Horseshoe crabs feed mostly at night and burrow for worms and mollusks. They will, however, feed at any time.

Horseshoe crabs grow by molting and emerge 25 percent larger with each molt. After 16 molts (usually between 9 and 12 years), they will be fully grown adults.

Horseshoe crab eggs are important food for migratory shore. Fish also eat the juveniles or recent molts.

In the 1900s, horseshoe crabs were dried for use as fertilizer and poultry food supplements before the advent of artificial fertilizers.

The medical profession uses an extract from the horseshoe crab's blue, copper-based blood called lysate to test the purity of medicines. Certain properties of the shell have also been used to speed blood clotting and to make absorbable sutures.

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