DNREC Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey volunteer training offered April 1 and 6

DOVER – The Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR) is seeking volunteers to assist with the annual bay-wide horseshoe crab spawning survey in May and June on Kent County’s Ted Harvey Wildlife Area and Kitts Hummock and North Bowers beaches.

For those who are interested in assisting with this year’s survey, DNERR staff will host volunteer training sessions at the St. Jones Reserve, 818 Kitts Hummock Road, Dover, DE 19901. Volunteers can choose from one of the three trainings scheduled for:

  • Saturday, April 1 from 9 to 11 a.m.
  • Saturday, April 1 from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 6 from 6 to 8 p.m.

New participants are required to attend one of the trainings, while past participants in the annual survey must attend a training once every three years.

Volunteers are asked to register online before the day of the training by visiting https://2017dnerrhscsurveytraining.eventbrite.com. For more information on horseshoe crab monitoring, visit http://de.gov/dnerrhscsurvey, or contact Drexel Siok or Maggie Pletta at 302-739-6377 or email them at DNERRhsc@gmail.com.

Horseshoe crab spawning surveys have been conducted since 1990 in Delaware Bay. Despite the horseshoe crab’s importance to the ecology of the bay, little is known about its population status. Now, every spring on several peak spawning days, volunteers donate their time to count crabs on beaches in Delaware and New Jersey. Data collected during these surveys is key for scientists to monitor changes in the number of spawning crabs in the bay. Delaware’s well-trained and enthusiastic volunteers have made this program one of the most successful volunteer-based wildlife surveys in the country.

At the training offered by DNREC, volunteers will learn how to conduct a survey, properly record data and distinguish between male and female horseshoe crabs. The training will also highlight past results of horseshoe crab survey data and how it is being used.

In addition, volunteers will be instructed on how to request their preferred dates for survey nights. Participants who are interested in other Delaware Bay beaches not coordinated by DNERR are welcome to attend the training and will be referred to the appropriate beach survey leader for further information. Volunteers must be older than 13 to participate in the training and survey, and all volunteers between the ages of 13 and 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Information on registering to participate in the survey will be sent to volunteers who have completed the training and to those who participated in the training and survey over the past three years. To participate in the survey, preregistration will be required.

For information on horseshoe crab monitoring, volunteer information and more, please visit http://de.gov/dnerr or on Facebook – Delaware NERR.

The Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve is a partnership between the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. DNERR is administered through the Delaware Coastal Programs Section of DNREC’s Office of the Secretary.

This project is part of DNREC’s Bayshore Initiative, a landscape approach to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat, increase volunteer participation in habitat stewardship projects, enhance low-impact outdoor recreation and ecotourism opportunities, and promote associated environmentally compatible economic development. For more information, click Delaware Bayshore.

Media contact: Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902.

Vol. 47, No. 67

-30-


Shorebird and horseshoe crab connection highlighted in new film from the Delaware Shorebird Project

‘Feast on the Beach: The Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Shorebird Connection’ film
educates, entertains and encourages ecotourism

WILMINGTON – The Delaware Shorebird Project today premiered Feast on the Beach: The Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Shorebird Connection, a film produced to raise awareness and understanding about the ecological connection between horseshoe crabs and shorebirds migrating through the Delaware Bay area, as well as the researchers who study them.

Every spring, hundreds of thousands of migrating shorebirds – including the threatened red knot – pass through Delaware’s central Bayshore region and neighboring New Jersey from areas as far away as southern South America on the way to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic. The Delaware Bay is a crucial refueling stop, where the birds eat horseshoe crab eggs to build their fat reserves before continuing their journey.

“This new film highlights one of nature’s great partnerships that is unique to Delaware: the meeting of migratory shorebirds and spawning horseshoe crabs on our Delaware Bays beaches each spring,” said Governor Carney. “Possibly the First State’s largest eco-tourism event of the year, the spectacle they present contributes much to Delaware’s conservation economy, drawing scientists, researchers and wildlife watchers from all over the world to visit and enjoy our great state.”

Beginning in early May, hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs make their way toward the beaches of the Delaware Bay. At high tide, especially during the new and full moon, the females come ashore to lay a clutch of 2,000 to 4,000 grayish-green eggs. Many of the egg clutches are disturbed by the bay’s wave action or by successive spawning females and come to the surface.

These millions of loose eggs on the bay beaches become a feast for migrating shorebirds, including red knots, ruddy turnstones, semipalmated sandpipers, sanderlings, short-billed dowitchers and dunlins. The birds have already traveled thousands of miles and have lost a great deal of weight. They feed voraciously on the horseshoe crab eggs, regaining as much as four to nine percent of their body weight per day before resuming their migration to the Arctic.

Researchers capture shorebirds, measure and weigh them, and attach a flag with a unique alphanumeric code. The flag’s color signifies the country where the bird was caught. Teams of scientists and volunteers can monitor shorebird numbers and movements around the Delaware Bay and along their migration routes by resighting these flags. Horseshoe crabs are also tagged.

“Each spring, Delaware’s resident horseshoe crabs and visiting migratory shorebirds come together in a natural spectacle on our Bayshore beaches that can be seen nowhere else in the world,” said DNREC Secretary David Small. “The film premiering today will be available to a wide audience so more people can learn about this unique event and its ecological and environmental importance.”

Jean Woods, Ph.D., Curator of Birds and Director of Collections at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, has been part of the Delaware Shorebird Project for 16 years. “As a researcher, I’m privileged to study the shorebirds and horseshoe crabs that come to Delaware Bay, and it’s exciting to share what we do with a broader audience,” Woods said. “We hope to encourage people to come out and experience this phenomenon for themselves – it’s even more impressive in person.”

The Delaware Bay is a major stop on the Atlantic Flyway for spring migrating shorebirds and supports the largest gathering of rufa red knots. Providing and maintaining quality nesting, migration stopover and wintering sites in this region is extremely important for population health and stability of Atlantic Flyway shorebird populations. Actions taken to conserve and monitor shorebirds here have wide-ranging benefits to the flyway. The Delaware Bay is an important link in the Atlantic Flyway Shorebird Initiative, a cross-organizational effort to conserve 15 Atlantic Flyway shorebird species.

Feast on the Beach is available online at www.delmnh.org/feast-on-the-beach, along with the Delaware Shorebird Project’s 2016 field season report. The film was produced by Michael Oates of 302 Stories, Inc., who has filmed shorebirds and horseshoe crabs for more than 30 years. He first drew attention to the crisis of overharvesting of horseshoe crabs with his 1999 Emmy-nominated program Dollars on the Beach.

The film will be highlighted at the Delaware Museum of Natural History’s Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs Day on Saturday, March 11 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., featuring a variety of activities targeted to families. DMNH’s Curator of Birds and Director of Collections, Jean Woods, Ph.D. will be on hand to talk about the film and her research on the shorebirds. Art featuring horseshoe crabs and shorebirds created by students at Brandywine Springs Elementary School will be on display through a partnership with Celebrate Delaware Bay and the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.

Funding for the film was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Delaware Bay Estuary Project, the Delmarva Ornithological Society, and the Fair Play Foundation. Berkana, Center for Media and Education, Inc. partnered with the Delaware Shorebird Project in obtaining funding for the project.

About the Delaware Shorebird Project:
The Delaware Shorebird Project is a dedicated team of scientists, volunteers and birders working to understand the threats to our shorebirds. Since 1997, they have researched the populations and health of migratory shorebirds that visit Delaware Bay each spring. The goals of the project include identifying and protecting resources crucial to the successful migration of these shorebirds. Their research is vital to an international network that supports and directs shorebird habitat protection and management plans. The project is managed by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, Species Conservation and Research Program.

About the Delaware Museum of Natural History:
As the only natural history museum in the state, the Delaware Museum of Natural History opened its doors in 1972 to excite and inform people about the natural world through exploration and discovery. The museum houses Delaware’s only permanent dinosaur display, surrounded by exhibits of birds, mammals, shells and other specimens from around the world. The museum stores renowned scientific collections of mollusks and birds, including one of the top-10 mollusk collections in the United States.

Media contacts: Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902, joanna.wilson@delaware.gov, or Jennifer Acord, Delaware Museum of Natural History, 302-658-9111, ext. 313, cell: 302-384-3694, jacord@delmnh.org.

Vol. 47, No. 53

-30-


DNREC’s DuPont Nature Center to reopen April 1

Volunteers sought for spring cleanup day March 11

DOVER – The DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion Harbor Reserve, a DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife facility located in the heart of Delaware’s Bayshore Region, will reopen Saturday, April 1 after being closed for the winter. The center will operate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays through the end of April. From May 1 through Aug. 31, spring and summer hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays. For the month of September, the center will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays only.

Prior to opening day, the DuPont Nature Center will hold a volunteer spring cleanup day from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, March 11. Projects include exhibit and tank set-up, deck maintenance, clearing sand/debris from sidewalks, planting beach grass and cleaning the center and the surrounding grounds. Volunteers under age 18 must provide a parental consent form, and volunteers under age 16 must be accompanied by an adult. For more information or to sign up to volunteer, contact Lynne Pusey at lynne.pusey@delaware.gov or 302-422-1329.

The center also will be hosting a volunteer orientation from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, April 9. The orientation will be for both new and previous volunteers interested in participating in activities at the nature center. Staff will review volunteer opportunities and procedures at the center and volunteers will learn about horseshoe crabs, shorebirds and some of the other aquatic species in the Mispillion Harbor. For more information or to sign up for the orientation, contact Lynne Pusey at lynne.pusey@delaware.govor 302-422-1329.

Located on the edge of Mispillion Harbor at the intersection of the mouths of the Mispillion River and Cedar Creek, the DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion Harbor Reserve offers a variety of interactive exhibits and educational programs. Indoor freshwater and saltwater tanks allow a close-up look at a variety of aquatic species, from horseshoe crabs to diamondback terrapins.

In the spring, the center’s large deck overlooking the harbor offers wildlife watchers an unparalleled view of the spectacle of spawning horseshoe crabs and migrating shorebirds, including red knots that depend on horseshoe crab eggs to help fuel their 9,000-mile journey.

The DuPont Nature Center is located at 2992 Lighthouse Road, near Slaughter Beach, east of Milford. The center is open to the public and admission is free. For general information about the center, please call 302-422-1329 or visit DuPont Nature Center. For inquiries about the center’s programs and operations, please contact Lynne Pusey, lynne.pusey@delaware.govor 302-422-1329.

The DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion Harbor Reserve supports DNREC’s Delaware Bayshore Initiative, a landscape approach to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat, increase volunteer participation in habitat stewardship projects, enhance low-impact outdoor recreation and ecotourism opportunities, and promote associated environmentally compatible economic development. For more information, click Delaware Bayshore.

Media contact: Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902.

Vol. 47, No. 52

-30-


Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey volunteer training offered Saturday, April 2 and Wednesday, April 6

DOVER – DNREC’s Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR) is seeking volunteers to assist with the annual bay-wide horseshoe crab spawning survey in May and June on Ted Harvey Wildlife Area, Kitts Hummock and North Bowers beaches.

For those who are interested in assisting with this year’s survey, DNERR staff will host volunteer training sessions at the St. Jones Reserve, 818 Kitts Hummock Road, Dover DE 19901. New participants are required to attend one of the trainings, while past participants in the annual survey must attend a training once every three years. Volunteers can choose from one of the three trainings scheduled for:

  • Saturday, April 2 from 9 to 11 a.m.
  • Saturday, April 2 from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 6 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Volunteers are asked to register online before the day of the training by visiting de.gov/dnerrhscsurvey. For more information on horseshoe crab monitoring or volunteering at DNERR, contact Drexel Siok or Maggie Pletta at 302-739-6377 or email them at DNERRhsc@gmail.com.

Since 1990 horseshoe crab spawning surveys have been conducted in Delaware Bay. Despite the horseshoe crab’s importance to the ecology of the Bay, little is known about its population status.. Now, every spring on several peak spawning days, volunteers donate their time to count crabs on beaches in Delaware and New Jersey. Data collected during these surveys is key for scientists to monitor changes in numbers of spawning crabs in the Bay. Delaware’s well-trained and enthusiastic volunteers have made this program one of the most successful volunteer-based wildlife surveys in the country.

DNERR tide tableAt the training, volunteers will learn how to conduct a survey, properly record data and distinguish between male and female horseshoe crabs. The training will also highlight results of horseshoe crab survey data and how it is being used.

In addition, those participating will be instructed on how to request preferred dates for survey nights. Participants who are interested in other Delaware Bay beaches not coordinated by DNERR are welcome to attend the training and will be referred to the appropriate beach survey leader for further information. Volunteers must be older than 13 to participate in the training and survey, and all volunteers between the ages of 13 and 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

Please note that the times listed are the high tides for the DNERR-coordinated beaches only. The total time commitment per night will range from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the number of horseshoe crabs found on a beach.

Information on registering to participate in the survey will be sent to volunteers who have completed the training and to those who participated in the training and survey over the past three years. To participate in the survey, pre-registration will be required.

For information on horseshoe crab monitoring, volunteer information and more, please visit de.gov/dnerr or find us on Facebook –Delaware NERR.

The Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve is a partnership between the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. DNERR is administered through the Delaware Coastal Programs Section of DNREC’s Office of the Secretary.

This project is part of DNREC’s Bayshore Initiative, a landscape approach to restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat, increase volunteer participation in habitat stewardship projects, enhance low-impact outdoor recreation and ecotourism opportunities, and promote associated environmentally compatible economic development. For more information, click Delaware Bayshore.

Media Contacts: Maggie Pletta, Delaware Coastal Programs, 302-739-6377; or Melanie Rapp, Public Affairs, 302-739-9902

Vol. 46, No. 92


New artificial bait developed by U of D from project funded by DNREC could reduce number of horseshoe crabs used to catch eel and whelk

LEWES (May 29, 2013) – A new alternative bait product that will help reduce the number of horseshoe crabs harvested from the Delaware Bay was introduced today. A team of University of Delaware researchers led by Dr. Nancy Targett, DuPont scientists, fisheries biologists, watermen and conservation groups were joined by DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara to make the announcement this morning at UD’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes. 

For years, commercial eel and whelk fishers have dealt with a dilemma: They know the best bait to attract eel and whelk, locally known as conch, is a female horseshoe crab. However, harvest limits are in place to protect the Delaware Bay’s horseshoe crab population and the threatened migratory shorebirds that depend on their eggs as a food source. Commercial fishers have long worked within these limits, dividing each bait crab into pieces to bait multiple eel or whelk pots. 

“Horseshoe crabs are an ecologically and economically important species in the Delaware Estuary, which hosts the largest concentrations of horseshoe crabs in the world,” said Governor Jack Markell. “This alternative bait is the result of a great partnership among academic researchers, scientists, government, a private corporation and the commercial fisheries industry. By working together, they have found a solution that has great economic and environmental benefits, both now and for the future of bait development.” 

“Conserving and restoring horseshoe crab populations is critical to supporting Delaware’s shorebird migration and implementing the vision of the Delaware Bayshore Initiative,” said DNREC Secretary O’Mara. “By using this new bait developed by leading scientists at the University of Delaware in partnership with DNREC, watermen will be able to reduce the number of horseshoe crabs used to catch whelk and eel, enjoy more convenient bait storage, help conserve the horseshoe crab population, and support migratory birds that depend on horseshoe crab eggs for food. I applaud my predecessor, Secretary John Hughes, and Dean Nancy Targett for their vision to launch this innovative effort, which will provide a win-win for both the economy and the environment for years to come.”

The new bait came after years of research, which was spurred in part by a surprising fact: Eel and whelk do not typically feed on adult horseshoe crabs in their natural environment, yet they find them hard to resist in baited pots. 

That disconnect intrigued Targett, director of Delaware Sea Grant, dean of UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment and an ecologist who studies the chemical cues that influence animal behavior in the sea. She and her research team set out to identify the mysterious “scent” that lures in eels – and come up with a bait alternative to horseshoe crabs, which have experienced population declines in recent decades. 

After years of research, Targett and her colleagues have developed a recipe for just such an artificial attractor that could help reduce the number of horseshoe crabs commercial fishermen use.

“Our hope is that this new bait will meet the fishing community’s needs and at the same time protect the horseshoe crab,” Targett said. “Delaware Sea Grant’s motto is ‘Science Serving the Delaware Coast,’ and we are grateful that so many partners shared in that spirit to move this project forward.”

Horseshoe crabs – which are actually more closely related to spiders than crabs – feed upon marine worms and small shellfish, and are fed upon by the federally threatened loggerhead sea turtle and a number of shark species. Their outer shells often support a whole community of marine life, from bacteria to blue mussels. Horseshoe crab eggs are a key part of the seasonal diet of at least seven commercially and recreationally important fish species and a host of crabs and other invertebrates. 

Each May and June, horseshoe crabs lay large numbers of these small green eggs on Delaware Bay beaches. Migratory shorebirds, such as the endangered red knot, arrive around the same time to feast on surplus eggs before continuing their long journey from South America to their Arctic breeding grounds. In about two weeks, the birds double their weight for the final non-stop leg of the trip. 

As horseshoe crab populations dropped considerably in the 1990s, so did the numbers of red knots. With the horseshoe crab decline largely attributed to their increased demand as bait in the commercial whelk pot fishery, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) established a fisheries management plan with strict harvest quotas. Since the plan was adopted, increases have been noted in segments of the horseshoe crab population. Currently, the ASMFC plan allows for harvesting a limited number of male horseshoe crabs and no harvest of female crabs in Delaware.  

With whelk as a popular seafood staple in Asia and an ingredient used domestically in chowders and fritters, demand for horseshoe crabs as bait continues to be high, particularly for female crabs, making an equally effective alternative appealing both economically and environmentally. 

To reach the goal of finding an alternative bait, Targett partnered with DuPont scientists to analyze the horseshoe crab’s chemical makeup. They identified 100 compounds in tissue samples and were able to rule out some as key components in the scent that appeals so strongly to eel and whelk. 

“We were pleased to provide the expertise of DuPont scientists, as well as business advice to make this project successful,” said Gary Spitzer, DuPont senior vice president of operations and engineering. “This is a great example of the way corporations, universities and governments can collaborate to promote sustainable solutions.” 

Concurrent with the chemical approach, Targett’s lab developed artificial bait made from alginates (compounds found in brown seaweeds and kelp), a small amount of coarsely ground horseshoe crab and food-grade chemicals including baking soda and citric acid. When mixed together, these ingredients form a quick-set gelatin that keeps for up to four days.

Compared with using half of a female horseshoe crab, which is the Delaware limit, the mixture was just as productive in catching eel using only one-eighth of a female. By substituting an invasive species, the Asian shore crab, the researchers cut that amount down to as little as one-sixteenth of a horseshoe crab. They tested catching whelk with the bait and found similarly successful results. 

In addition, despite speculation that female horseshoe crabs were better baits than males, the scientists found that artificial baits composed of males or females were equally effective. The Delaware limit is one whole male per trap or pot. 

The bait research was funded by Delaware Sea Grant, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and DuPont Chemicals & Fluoroproducts. A faculty member at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute participated in the early stages of the research. DNREC provided logistical assistance in obtaining horseshoe crab specimens and connecting researchers with fishers. 

LaMonica Fine Foods in Millville, N.J., has started producing the bait commercially. Field tests in Delaware Bay with local whelk fishermen have been successful so far. 

“The hallmark of this bait is that everyone wins,” said Jim Roussos of LaMonica Fine Foods LLC. “This is a major step in conserving the natural resource of horseshoe crabs. The conch and eel fishermen are relieved of the pressures of buying, storing and processing horseshoe crabs. The University of Delaware has proven once again that it is a vital, important and valuable institution not only to its students but to the public at large. And commercial fisheries win when we can be conservators of public resources while maintaining our historical way of life.”

To learn more about the project and download the recipe for personal use, visit www.deseagrant.org.

For more information about pre-made bait, call Michael LaVecchia at LaMonica Fine Foods at 856-825-8111, ext. 102. 

Contact: Teresa Messmore, University of Delaware, 302-757-2245, or Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902.

Vol. 43, No. 220

-30-