Coastal Restoration / Endangered Species

Changing fortunes on Delaware Bay

One might think a creature named the horseshoe crab would be naturally lucky–and in some ways it is. The prehistoric throwback has retained its basic physiology for around 350 million years, so it’s already far outlasted our own species on an evolutionary scale. Evolved as it may be, its luck has been challenged along the shores of the Delaware Bay. Beaches that traditionally serve as one of the crabs’ major spawning grounds were severely eroded by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the species is projected to be impacted by continuing shore development, frequent intense storms like Sandy and ongoing sea level rise.

The eggs of mating horseshoe crabs at Delaware Bay will sustain thousands of migrating shorebirds on their long trips to the Arctic. Credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

The eggs of mating horseshoe crabs at Delaware Bay will sustain thousands of migrating shorebirds on their long trips to the Arctic. Credit: Gregory Breese/USFWS

Even less fortunate are the migrating shorebirds who depend on their critical stopover at Delaware Bay to refuel on sustaining horseshoe crab eggs on their way to the Arctic—a journey that, for some, clocks more than 18,000 miles annually. Take the rufa red knot for example, a species whose numbers have declined so sharply that it is being considered for federal Endangered Species Act protection. It’s estimated that more than 50 percent of the entire rufa red knot population stops at Delaware Bay, one of the last undeveloped shores on the Atlantic coast, making the area essential to the continuing survival of the species.

Fifty to 70 truckloads of sand are being added daily to five beaches on Delaware Bay that were badly eroded by Hurricane Sandy. Click below to view video of the beaches being replenished.

But sometimes good fortune is the result of foresight. To help both of these species and the beach habitats upon which they depend, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has broken ground on the first of 31 forward-looking Hurricane Sandy resilience projects: a $1.65 million restoration of several beaches along the Delaware Bay. The effort includes repairing storm surge and erosion damage at Reeds Beach, Kimbles Beach, Cooks Beach and Pierce’s Point in New Jersey’s Cape May County and at Moore’s Beach in Cumberland County (all important habitat areas for both crabs and shorebirds). The project involves  depositing some 50-70 truckloads of locally-mined sand daily to re-establish the diminishing coastline, with total sand replenishment estimated at 45,500 tons.

A map of the Reeds Beach restoration area. Inset: Greater Delaware Bay with beach restoration proposals highlighted in red. Credit: American Littoral Society.

A map of the Reeds Beach restoration area. Inset: Greater Delaware Bay with beach restoration proposals highlighted in red. Credit: American Littoral Society.

Partners in the effort, including the American Littoral Society and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, are coordinating the restoration with the Service’s Cape May National Wildlife Refuge, and with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. These partners have not only been instrumental in helping to implement the Service’s core coastal resilience and habitat restoration goals, they’ve also been seeking to secure further funding to restore additional spans of Delaware Bay shoreline.

Restoration crews have been employing something of a hurry-up offense, as the sand must be added, spread and graded by early May, when the horseshoe crabs typically return for spawning.

Cape May National Wildlife Refuge hosts annual nighttime horseshoe crab tagging events on Kimbles Beach. Credit: USFWS.

Cape May National Wildlife Refuge hosts annual nighttime horseshoe crab tagging events on Kimbles Beach. Credit: USFWS.

Cape May Refuge Manager Brian Braudis says the refuge plans to host horseshoe crab taggings on May 15 and May 29 at 8:30 p.m. when the crabs return, on its Kimbles Beach parcel. Last year, volunteers including veterans, retirees and school children—some bussed in from upstate classrooms—tagged 1,000 horseshoe crabs. With a support network like this, who needs luck?

To read more about U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Hurricane Sandy recovery and resilience projects, visit http://www.fws.gov/hurricane/sandy. To view media coverage of Cape May beach restoration projects, click here. To learn about the Service’s broader conservation and habitat restoration efforts on Delaware Bay, click here.

One thought on “Changing fortunes on Delaware Bay

  1. Pingback: Strong After Sandy | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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