Category Archives: Advocacy

Horseshoe Crabs Need Our Help

News: Overexploitation of Horseshoe Crabs Continues Despite Overwhelming Support for their Protection 

For more than 400 million years, horseshoe crabs have survived in virtually unchanged form. Today, horseshoe crab eggs fuel epic annual migrations of the Red Knot and other coastal birds, but the crabs and other species that depend on them are in trouble.  

Tragically, decades of overexploitation have depleted these ancient creatures to a fraction of their historic populations. Recently, the state body tasked with managing this species in Massachusetts, the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission (MFAC), voted down key protections aimed at reversing their decline. Without further protections, horseshoe crabs will continue to be harvested while spawning and laying eggs and will stand little chance of rebounding to healthy population levels. 

We’re calling on the MFAC to reverse this unacceptable decision—we must ramp up protections for the oldest species in Massachusetts. 

horseshoe crab on beach

A Failure to Protect Horseshoe Crabs 

Mass Audubon scientists and advocates have called for stronger horseshoe crab protections for years. Fortunately, the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF) recently proposed a harvesting ban from January 1 through May 3, which would have protected horseshoe crabs during spawning. We rallied wildlife lovers to submit public comments in support of these protections and you delivered! The DMF received more than 1,350 comments, over 80 percent of which came from Mass Audubon supporters. 

Tragically, the MFAC—an appointed board dominated by the fishing industry—chose to ignore unanimous public support and recommendations by DMF scientists. They voted against restricting horseshoe crab harvesting during spawning season. Instead, they approved weaker regulations, such as lowering annual crab harvest quotas. But these protections fall far short of those needed to return horseshoe crab populations to healthy levels. 

In support of their decision, the MFAC cited our data that showed slight increases in horseshoe crab numbers during the last few years. However, these increases were primarily in places where bait harvest was banned, and crab numbers remain radically below their historic levels.  We need to see long-term, strong growth to put horseshoe crab populations on track towards recovery.  

Threats to Horseshoe Crabs in Massachusetts 

Scientists at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have conducted annual surveys of horseshoe crabs for more than two decades. In recent years, they have found chronically depleted populations with highly skewed male-female ratios. Two irresponsible harvesting practices drive this frightening trend.  

First, commercial fishermen harvest more than 100,000 crabs each year to use as bait for whelk—a species that is already overfished in Massachusetts. Harvesting one depleted species to use as bait for another is the height of irresponsible overfishing. Mass Audubon calls for an end to this practice. 

Biomedical industry practices add to the pressure from commercial bait fishing. By bleeding horseshoe crabs for a compound found in their blood to test drug purity, biomedical companies make millions by testing pharmaceutical products for bacteria. The industry claims this practice is humane, but studies have shown that up to 30% of crabs die after being bled.  

Developing effective synthetic alternatives to the compound extracted from horseshoe crabs will be part of the solution to the problems created by biomedical harvests. In the meantime, however, the bleeding industry must be carefully regulated. 

Recognizing the threats to horseshoe crabs, other states like Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and South Carolina have committed to strict regulations on harvesting female crabs or harvesting at all during the spawning season. These strong protections elsewhere on the Atlantic Coast are driving more harvesters to Massachusetts, making it even more crucial that we do our part in protecting this ancient species. 

How You Can Help Protect Horseshoe Crabs 

Mass Audubon is committed to challenging the MFAC’s decision and continuing to push for stronger protections for horseshoe crabs. Stay tuned for updates on how you can help protect horseshoe crabs, then get ready to share far and wide—we’ll need all hands on deck! 

Large wind turbines in the ocean.

News: Massachusetts Releases Historic Request for Offshore Wind Proposals

Exciting news: Massachusetts has just requested proposals for new offshore wind turbine developments that could produce up to 25% of our state’s electricity. Wind energy developers will now be able to submit proposals to build large arrays of wind turbines in the waters off of the Massachusetts Coast.  

Most importantly, these proposals include requirements for developers to monitor and mitigate the impacts of wind turbines on wildlife and to build the most efficient system of transmission lines possible—both crucial measures for the protection of nature. 

Mass Audubon enthusiastically supports offshore wind energy projects, but these developments must, and can, be built with an ironclad commitment to protecting nature and biodiversity.

Large wind turbines in the ocean.
Flickr © Andy Dingley

Climate Change and Massachusetts Wildlife 

Climate change is by far the greatest threat to the birds and wildlife of Massachusetts. It causes sea level rise and stronger ocean storms which wreak havoc on coastal bird habitats, drowning out nesting and foraging areas for species such as the federally protected Roseate Tern and Piping Plover. Warmer temperatures also alter the length of seasons, interrupting traditional migration patterns. All the birds, wildlife, and coastal ecosystems we cherish in Massachusetts are directly threatened by climate change. 

To slow the progress of climate change, Massachusetts must shift its energy system away from the fossil fuels that are emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The state has a goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2025. It simply won’t be possible to reach that goal without large-scale wind energy development. 

Wind energy projects—and especially offshore wind energy projects that take advantage of higher-speed ocean wind—are among the most cost-effective clean energy sources we have available. A few large-scale wind developments off our coast could power a quarter of the state. No other energy technology offers that kind of scale.

Mass Audubon’s Advocacy for Wildlife-Friendly Wind Development 

While Massachusetts needs offshore wind energy to help slow the climate crisis that is destroying our nature and wildlife, these developments must not come at the expense of our birds and wildlife. 

Compared to previous wind energy proposals in Massachusetts, the state’s latest proposal includes stronger requirements for wind developers to monitor and mitigate any harm to nature and wildlife that their projects cause.  

Additionally, we applaud the Commonwealth’s commitment to planning an efficient system of transmission lines connecting wind developments to the power grid. New transmission lines often impact forests and other habitats and can harm nearby birds and wildlife, so we must work to build new clean energy infrastructure with as light a footprint as possible.  

Both of these conservation provisions reflect Mass Audubon’s advocacy in action over the last several years. 

Our wildlife experts help monitor the impacts of wind energy development and are a critical voice on the state’s habitat advisory group. We will work to ensure that wind energy developers continue engaging with this group to make their projects as wildlife-friendly as possible. We’ll also continue to push for developers to provide the full funding needed to conduct wildlife monitoring and mitigation.  

The choice before us is not whether to pursue offshore wind or protect our iconic wildlife. We must do both. We’re optimistic that Massachusetts is up to the task.

How You Can Help Us Advocate for Wildlife-Friendly Wind Energy  

Learn more about our advocacy for responsible wind energy development

To get involved in the fight for responsible wind energy development, become a Climate Champion