image_pdfimage_print
This year marks the third year the WaterFront Center has participated in the New York horseshoe crab monitoring survey. Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s Marine Program has been working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to develop and organize this project to collect spawning data and tag certain horseshoe crabs, helping scientists to learn more about the life cycle of the Horseshoe Crab. Limulus polyphemus is not presently endangered, but since the 1970s, habitat destruction and harvesting to use it as bait for eel, whelk and conch trapping have reduced its numbers at some locations and caused some concern for this animal’s future. During the nights around full and new moons in May and June, mating pairs of horseshoe crabs come up with the evening high tides to lay their eggs in the sand of the upper beach. Female horseshoe crabs will lay multiple clutches of eggs and then retreat to the deeper waters to recover and wait until the next moon. The eggs that are laid become food for migrating birds and other animals that use them for much needed protein in the spring months to help grow and reproduce. Everything from Raccoons, Canadian Geese and other shore birds rely on these eggs to bulk up and gain mass quickly. The horseshoe crabs that do hatch and make it to the water will have to hide and molt quickly to grow in size and a make a harder shell. Over the three years we have conducted this survey more than fifty volunteers have tagged over 200 Horseshoe Crabs. The volunteers meet at WFC’s building thirty minutes before high tide on tagging dates. At that time the site coordinator goes over the plans for the evening and describes the different jobs and assigning each volunteer to: record, observe, size, or tag. The observer looks for horseshoe crabs that are submerged and also in the surf zone, calling out to the recorder what they see. The recorders tallys the count of male and female horseshoe crabs in the two different zones. The sizing and tagging group head out a few minutes afterwards and look for horseshoe crabs that are partially or completely out of the water. Each horseshoe crab that gets tagged receives a specific number that becomes their personal identification. After the horseshoe crabs have been counted and tagged the volunteers move from Beekman Beach over to Teddy Roosevelt Park beach and repeat the process. At the end of the season all data sheets are sent to Cornell Cooperative Extension, entered into a database, and sent off to the Atlantic Fisheries Department. Once all of the data is collected, the population estimate is calculated and a number is generated for all fishermen to adhere to in the capture of Horseshoe crabs. There is also a number derived from the population count that medical societies are allowed to capture to extract the blood for use in medical testing and trials. The horseshoe crabs used for medical research are, eventually and hopefully, returned to the water. If you have a chance, join us for one of the many surveys sites next spring and see what all the commotion is about! You will have a great experience, and learn more about the amazing Horseshoe crab.