Spring is just around the corner, which means that shorebirds throughout the Western Hemisphere will be heading to the Arctic from South America to breed. Meanwhile, the largest population of spawning horseshoe crabs on the Atlantic Coast will be laying their small, green eggs on the sandy beaches of the Delaware Bay. The shorebirds will stop on the Delaware Bay during their journeys to feast on these green eggs, before continuing on.
In 1986, biologists, citizens, and political leaders came together to recognize Delaware Bay as the first Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) Site of Hemispheric Importance for shorebirds because of this critical role as a stopover site during spring migration.
But the story on the Bay has changed. Overharvesting of horseshoe crabs for bait has reduced the population of these unique creatures and the number of eggs available for shorebirds. This loss of food at an important stopover site, combined with other threats including disturbance, sea level rise and extreme storms, has left shorebirds struggling to survive—most notably the rufa subspecies of Red Knot, which recently received protection under the U. S. Endangered Species Act.
The approach to conservation on the Delaware Bay is multifaceted with efforts that include habitat restoration, leadership engagement and scientific study. Through the Celebrate Delaware Bay Campaign, Manomet and other partners are focusing on one of the most critical components of conservation: community engagement. Celebrate Delaware Bay is working to achieve engagement that goes beyond raising awareness to inspire action.
Coordinated by the Executive Office of WHSRN which is housed within Manomet, Celebrate Delaware Bay works with many organizations, communities and individuals to “build a community to protect the Delaware Bay as critical habitat for shorebirds and horseshoe crabs through education and direct action.”
Now in its second year, Celebrate Delaware Bay is collaborating with partners to engage people in existing projects including horseshoe crab rescue and tagging, beach stewardship, and leadership education.
This spring will bring new activities, including conservation-based art projects and collaborations with nature-based tourism efforts. One exciting new project is youth-created wildlife education signs that will be placed along Bayshore beaches, reminding visitors that we share these beaches with wildlife.
“We see that the hands-on, one-on-one interaction from these citizen science and stewardship activities builds a stronger, hopefully lifelong connection with the Delaware Bay, shorebirds and horseshoe crabs,” said Laura Chamberlin, WHSRN’s Delaware Bay Program Coordinator.
A large community supporting the Delaware Bay will ensure that many more generations will find joy and inspiration in the 9,000 mile journey of a small, robin-sized bird—the Red Knot.