By Laura Chamberlin, Community Engagement Coordinator, WHSRN Executive Office
The students eagerly grab the paper, excited to get started on their artwork. Some of the students stare blankly at the page and then say sheepishly “I’m not very good at drawing birds.” “That’s ok,” I reply. “Me neither; what’s important is your message.”
And the message was something all the students communicated beautifully.
This artwork is not a break from class, but a chance for students to learn about, and take action for, the Delaware Bay and the shorebirds and horseshoe crabs it supports. Their artwork, with messages such as: “Shorebird Rest Stop,” “9,000 miles, I sure need a break,” and “Don’t leave me stranded,” were used to create wildlife education signs to welcome our returning shorebirds, horseshoe crabs, and visitors to the Delaware Bay.
Critically important as a stopover location during spring migration, the Delaware Bay is celebrating its 30th anniversary as the very first site in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) and a site of Hemispheric Importance for shorebirds.
Every May, up to half a million shorebirds descend on Delaware Bay to restore energy reserves lost after long flights from the Southern Hemisphere. They will double their weight on the protein-rich eggs of the 420 million-year old horseshoe crab before continuing to the Arctic.
However, overharvesting of horseshoe crabs in the 1990s drastically reduced the number of eggs available for shorebirds. Along with other impacts, this has caused an almost 80% reduction in shorebird populations. However, harvest restriction, beach restoration, and stewardship have helped to reduce threats, but challenges remain.
The youth signs are one tool to help people understand how they can be respectful visitors by sharing the beach with birds and horseshoe crabs. They encourage more people to get involved in conservation actions, like allowing birds to feed undisturbed and rescuing stranded horseshoe crabs.
Over 240 students created inspirational artwork for weatherproof signs, and 47 signs were installed at 16 beaches in Delaware and New Jersey. Local partners, including naturalists, scientists, and community leaders, selected the artwork and installation locations on the beaches. By engaging the community in the selection and installation of signs, their bright colors and positive messages serve as an undeniable reminder of one the reasons we are working to protect our wildlife—shorebirds are amazing and our future generations deserve to know them.
The youth sign project is a coordinated by Celebrate Delaware Bay in partnership with several organizations, including New Jersey Audubon, who have had success with similar youth sign projects near critical shorebird habitat on the Atlantic Ocean beaches. In its fourth year, Celebrate Delaware Bay, an initiative of the Executive Office of WHSRN, continues to bring the Delaware Bay’s story to new audiences and inspire people to take action through field trips, festivals, horseshoe crab rescue, horseshoe crab spawning surveys and tagging, and student education. Learn more at celebratedebay.org