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N. Sivasothi,
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Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore. Since 1998 with origins from OneList.

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Thu 24 Jul 2008

Horseshoe crabs rescued from a ghost net in Mandai mangrove

Category : marine

Horseshoe crabs have been around for at least 445 million years, predating the dinosaurs and they are facing their greatest challenges during the Anthropocene - habitat loss, pollution, over-fishing and ghost net entanglement. The latter arises when fishermen abandon or lose their strong mono-filament gill nets; these do not degrade but will instead repeatedly entangle all sorts of animals in mangroves, rocky shore, coral reefs, sea grass and sandy shores.

This is happening in Singapore too. Like my fellow naturalists and field biologists, I have had to rescue horseshoe crabs, forceps crabs, birds and even snakes over the past two decades. Habitatnews has highlighted just a couple of these rescues (e. g. Lazarus Island, 2004; Mandai, 2005) and the Nature Society (Singapore) has a regular rescue team that works the Mandai mudflats. These days it seems almost every low tide trip to a mangrove reveals ghost nets - e.g. shooting for Once Upon a Tree 2, a shore visit suring the last Pedal Ubin and the recent Lim Chu Kang mangrove cleanup as well.

Mandai mudflats and mangroves have such a high incidence of ghost nets that I pack a scissors and factor in time for gill net removal each time before I set out - film shoot, education trip or work trip. Unfortunately, today was no different - NUS biology honours student Theresa Su, Raffles Museum Toddycat Teo Kah Ming and myself carefully released about 20 mangrove horseshoe crabs that were still living. Kah Ming had counted 87 carapaces entangled and adacent to the net so most had died some time ago.

We checked each individual to be sure and carefully removed the nylon filaments that had weaved between and around their limbs. The chelicerates (horseshoe crabs are not crabs) were not feisty but happily not too limp - so they were recent entanglements but probably not last night's. Once freed, we left them clustered in various tide pools nearby with some hope that they would survive. The net was cut into three lengths and carried out in a bag made from a large-mesh ghost net lying nearby.

There are still nets out there, I know, and with research trips increasing, hopefully it will come to a time when my scissors can stay in the bag!

Mangrove horseshoe crab entanglement at Mandai Besar mangroves.

Kah Ming and Theresa checking the gill net line for live ones
- about 20 of 87 entangled chelicerates were still alive.

Another animal cleared of entanglement by our trusty scissors!

Posted at 3:01PM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | email | Raffles Museum news