A grassroots group of conservationists in Indonesia are racing to help preserve the horseshoe crab, an otherworldly, marine living fossil.

Fossils resembling modern horseshoe crabs have been found as found back as far as 200 million years ago and their blue blood (caused by a copper-containing molecule where humans use hemoglobin) is used to test the safety of a wide variety of medicines.

Rafly Zhulkifly, co-founder at Indonesia Horseshoe Crab Project (Yayasan Sahabat Belangkas Nusantara), says if Indonesia’s horseshoe crabs disappeared, it would be a big blow to both the country’s nature and global biodiversity.

“These ancient sea creatures, protected by Indonesian law as living fossils, are really special and have been around for almost 500 million years,” he says, “Unlike in the US, where they’re used for blood harvesting, that doesn’t happen in Indonesia.”

But, Zhulkifly warns that the species, vital to coastal ecosystems, are still in danger from things like illegal trading, getting caught accidentally, losing their natural habitat, and pollution, which is making their numbers drop.

“Losing them would not only be a loss for Indonesia but also for the planet because they play a big part in keeping our oceans balanced,” he says, “So, it’s super important to do what we can to protect them, like getting more people involved in keeping an eye on them and making sure fishing practices are sustainable.

The project, focused on a small fishing village in East Kalimantan, had the original aim to explore the conservation world from a different perspective.

“As the project progressed, we realized that there were no conservation plans related to horseshoe crabs in Indonesia, and there was a lack of awareness regarding the threats they face and their protected status, therefore, our aspiration is for horseshoe crabs not only to be fully protected but also for all elements of Indonesian society to have a desire to participate in safeguarding these creatures,” Zhulkifly says, adding that the biggest challenge so far has been the perception of horseshoe crabs as pests by the community.

In 2023, the project and its previous head Hanifa Miranda received funding from New England Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) to contribute towards horseshoe crab population status assessment in Indonesia and enable stronger horseshoe crab conservation management by establishing baseline information and increasing stakeholder awareness.

Local Effort In Indonesia

Zhulkifly was born and raised in Tanjung Redeb, Berau, a small town nestled in the heart of East Kalimantan, Indonesia, known for its rich biodiversity both on land and in the surrounding seas, but faces a number of challenges to preserve its special ecosystem.

According to Zhulkifly, he was stationed in Tanjung Batu during his internship at WWF Indonesia as a shark and ray enumerator and had the opportunity to observe and swim alongside the world’s largest fish, sparking a strong desire to protect threatened flora and fauna.

“Subsequently, I was recruited by the Indonesia Horseshoe Crab Project as a project intern,” he says, adding that after only intending to participate a couple of months, has stayed on to “continue our efforts by establishing the first foundation in Indonesia dedicated to the research and conservation of horseshoe crabs.”

Zhulkifly explains that as those actually living in the Global South, scientists there understand the local context inside and out, dealing with issues that are specific to their regions: this means they are the ones best placed to come up with solutions that make sense for their home.

“As an early career conservationist, I know that I still have much to learn, but I very much understand the importance it is to recognize that there’s no one size fits all solution,” he says, “I’m keen to continue exploring how we can work collaboratively with local communities, scientists and a network of stakeholders to apply solutions not just for a better future for the global south, but for our planet.”

Unlocking The Secrets Of Indonesia’s ‘Whip-Tailed’ Thresher Sharks

Another young Indonesian marine conservationist is Rafid Shidqi, Co-Founder and Director of Thresher Shark Indonesia.

The pelagic thresher shark’s long tail can reach several meters in length, stunning or killing prey in a whipping motion, but their population has significantly declined over the past decades due to hunting, and there have been no regulations for protecting them in Indonesia, leaving them on the brink of extinction.

Shidqi and his colleagues have been working with the local community on Alor Island since 2018 to improve their perception and interaction with the animal, which have been seen for more than 50 years as a source of protein in the local diet.

“Alor has been identified as one of the thresher shark fishing hotspots in Indonesia, where 80% of caught sharks are pregnant females,” he says, “Our goal is to protect the endangered pelagic thresher sharks while protecting the rights of communities to livelihood.”





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