Buddhists may be killing horseshoe crabs, according to conservationists

A religious ceremony involving the release of endangered horseshoe crab into the sea may be hurting the prehistoric species.

The ancient Buddhist practice of releasing live seafood into the wild has on occasion included horseshoe crabs, which fisherman catch for religious purposes as well as a delicacy, according to a report by the South China Morning Post. Based on the belief in reincarnation, the ritual is meant to create good karma by way of saving sea creatures from becoming meals.

The practice, however, puts horseshoe crabs at greater risk. They are unlikely to adapt to new environments or survive exposure to polluted waters, particularly near docks.

Buddhist group Hong Kong Release Live hosts a weekly activity where 20 to 30 people bring pails of freshly bought seafood on a boat sailing off Tsuen Wan pier. After a blessing, participants empty their pails into the sea. This activity, which is funded by donations, has gone on for three years.

“They think they are letting them live, but actually they’re sending them off to die,” said aquatic ecology Professor Kenneth Leung Mei-yee of the University of Hong Kong.

The aquatic creatures predate the dinosaurs and have survived multiple extinction events. With human encroachment on their natural habitats, their numbers have dwindled. Young horseshoe crabs only live in muddy shores while adults remain in close proximity to their spawning sites. Releasing them into open water not only places them in danger, but threatens other creatures in the area.

Two of four remaining horseshoe crab species can be found in Hong Kong. Areas along Lantau Island's coast are among the few identified habitats.

Photo from CUHK School of Life Sciences (sls.cuhk.edu.hk)

READ: Kevin Laurie's crab crusade

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