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Primehook Beach Residents Protect Horseshoe Crabs

October 8, 2009

Delaware: Residents of Primehook Beach want their beaches to remain a safe haven for horseshoe crabs.  They’ve teamed up with an ecological research group and declared the beaches a sanctuary for the ancient creatures that return to the Delaware Bay each year to spawn. Primehook resident Ginger Baum said residents began looking into creating a horseshoe crab sanctuary in 2000. A committee of residents spread the word to neighbors this year, she said, and with the help of Ecological Research & Development Group (ERDG), they were able to put in place an educational sign.

“This year, we had so much more response from residents,” she said. It’s been a word-of-mouth process, said Baum, who along with her neighbors lives near some of the most productive beaches in the world for spawning horsehoe crabs.

Glenn Gauvry, president of ERDG, said the program is designed to engender a sense of trusteeship among beach community residents, encouraging them to care for the crabs that share their beaches. “This is not a state or federal program at all. It’s entirely a creation of ERDG,” he said.

“The idea was to start to engage the community in conserving this natural resource, the horseshoe crab. What better place to start a sanctuary than where these animals are coming to spawn,” he said.

State and federal protections are in place for some of the land along the Delaware Bay, prime spawning grounds for horseshoe crabs. But, Gauvry said, most crabs end up in people’s yards to spawn.

“The world’s most productive spawning beaches for horseshoe crabs are along the Delaware Bay. Some of the most productive beaches are here in Delaware,” he said.

So, ERDG works to educate community members, who in turn educate visitors about the ecological significance of horseshoe crabs and why it is important to give them a hand, by turning over stranded crabs, he said.

There is no program like it in the country, Gauvry said. So far, there are seven sanctuaries in Delaware and one in New Jersey. Broadkill Beach, Primehook Beach, Fowler Beach, Slaughter Beach, Kitts Hummock, Camp Arrowhead and Pickering Beach in Delaware and Fortescue Beach in New Jersey are designated sanctuaries, he said. ERDG estimates those communities are protecting more than 12 miles of key spawning habitat.

“People here in Delaware have really stepped up to the plate and said, ‘We’re going to take care of this resource,’” said Gauvry. They partner with scientists and researchers, helping to count crabs, as well.

It wasn’t long ago that people didn’t want the crabs on their beaches at all, because of the smell, he said.

Now, Gauvry said, communities along the Delaware Bay have mounted a heroic effort to save the crabs, whose eggs are a key food source for migratory shorebirds, including the threatened red knot.

By Leah Hoenen, Cape Gazette