Hurricane Sandy didn’t just destroy human homes. It also wiped out a large stretch of beach used for the spawning grounds of the horseshoe crabs. Each year in late May, the odd-looking animals make their way to the sandy beaches of Delaware Bay to mate and lay their eggs, which provide food for many migrating shorebirds, including New Jersey’s endangered red knot. However, the soft sand layer was washed away with the superstorm, and if people don’t work fast to restore the beach, the crabs won’t be able to reproduce.
The American Littoral Society, in a partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, said that they are now in a race against time to restore about one mile of beach in Lower Township, Cape May County. The project will involve spreading a new layer of sand at the high tide line in time for the annual arrival of the horseshoe crabs.
That’s critical not just for the crabs themselves, but also for the red knot, a small shorebird that makes one of the longest migratory journeys of any animal. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, each red knot travels 9,300 miles all the way from its breeding grounds in the Arctic to its summer home in Tierra del Fuego in extreme South America. Each year, large flocks of red knots stop along the way for the horseshoe crab spawning, where they refuel by feeding on the abundant, high-protein eggs laid by the crabs.
Oh, and by the way, horseshoe crabs are not “true” crabs. Instead, they are actually ancient animals often described as “living fossils,” because they go back 450 million years — around 200 million years before the dinosaurs. In addition to being a critical food source for birds, they have become important to the medical industry because of their unusual blue blood. A chemical discovered in this copper-based blood clots easily in the presence of toxins, allowing it to be used to test medical equipment for toxins.
HostOurCoast has posted video of the horseshoe crab invasion here:
Hurricane Sandy left a mess, but with a little help from humans, the beaches will be ready when the horseshoe crabs return.