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A Knotty Problem

The population of the rufa subspecies of the red knot, a midsized shorebird, has plummeted from 95,530 in the 1980s to a 2006 count of 13,445. Every year rufa knots migrate 20,000 miles round-trip between their wintering grounds on the southern tip of South America and their nesting habitat in the Canadian Arctic. After flying 4,000 miles north nonstop, they arrive at Delaware Bay, where each red knot must eat thousands of horseshoe-crab eggs a day to double its body weight. Thus restored, the bird can complete its migration and then breed successfully.

But since the early 1990s horseshoe-crab eggs have declined 90 percent on these beaches, largely from overfishing of the crabs. New Jersey has listed the red knot as threatened and imposed a two-year moratorium on horseshoe-crab collecting. Delaware has also issued a two-year ban. Still, in 2005 the Bush administration rejected an emergency petition to protect red knots under the Endangered Species Act. Click here for more information.—Daniel Butcher

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