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Mispillion Harbor restoration complete; horseshoe crabs, birds enjoy rebuilt habitat

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media
Shorebirds flying around the Mispillion Harbor.

Thousands of shorebirds congregated at the Mispillion Harbor Friday afternoon – a sign of successful efforts to restore the area breached by Hurricane Sandy and other coastal storms.

Severe coastal storms battered the area in the early 2000s and water breached into the harbor and eroded sand. Then, Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012.

Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin called it “a crushing blow” to the area that led the state to seek funding for a resiliency project. Work started in 2016.

“This work is already supporting shorebird populations – as you can see and hear,” said Garvin at a Friday afternoon press conference, “and the horseshoe crabs are spawning in great numbers.”

And those horseshoe crabs attract shorebirds – like federally threatened red knots – that feed on horseshoe crab eggs. Delaware’s Senior Senator Tom Carper (D) said restoring the damage that’s been done will “provide a nice lunch stop” for these birds, which will in turn help tourism.

“They are a magnet,” Carper said. “You heard the term ‘chick magnet?' Well it’s a different kind of magnet. And these are tourist magnets.”

On a boat ride to see the restored Mispillion Harbor up close, project manager Jeremy Ashe pointed out some of the improvements, like a long wide beach for shorebirds to enjoy.

“When the tide comes up, before we restored the project, they would have nowhere to go, so they’d likely go up to New Jersey,” Ashe said. “But now at high tide, they have plenty of beach habitat to use.”

Federal funds of $5.8 million from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, matched by $2 million from the state helped raise and extend a 1980s era rock structure by 3.5 feet to a 6-feet height.

They extended the 2,300-foot-long structure 400 feet westward to connect to a dune.

Work also added 40,000 cubic yards of sand to the beach along the rock structure, and built new groins adjacent to the rock structure to keep sand in place.

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