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Volunteers needed for annual horseshoe crab census

DNREC and the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve need volunteers aged 13 and older to help count horseshoe crabs for their annual census.

Maggie Pletta, education coordinator at DNREC says the crews will go out this spring during the evening high tides in May when activity is at its peak.

“Participants go out with a meter-by-meter square quadrant and every 20 meters they’ll lay down the quadrant and they will count how many male and female horseshoe crabs are there, as well as if there are any that are tagged, write those down.”

The economic value of horseshoe crabs has been recognized since at least the nineteenth century, when millions were harvested annually from Delaware Bay to be ground up as fertilizer. By the 1950’s, the population of horseshoe crabs had decreased to the tens of thousands. Since then, controls have been put in place to protect this animal.

Horseshoe crabs – densely populating the beaches along the Delaware Bay - play a vital role in the ecosystem and in medical research.

Their eggs are a vital food source for migrating birds – and their blood is used to detect infectious bacteria in products.

Collected data will be analyzed to ensure the crabs aren’t over harvested for use as bait and fertilizer and their numbers remain at a sustainable level.

“The birds come through and they stop and they eat those eggs, which gives them the protein they need to finish their migration," said Pletta. "One of those birds is the red knot – which was recently listed as ‘threatened’ by the US Wildlife Survey. So without this food they wouldn’t be able to make it.”

Mandatory training for new volunteers will be held April 11th and 16th where they’ll learn to record data properly and identify the crabs by their gender.

Those under 18 wishing to volunteer will need to complete a parental consent form and must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Anyone interested can find more information at the survey's website.