On the northern side of the Delaware Bay, down the winding back roads of Cumberland County, the East Point Lighthouse stands proudly where it’s stood for more than a century, guiding boats and mariners involved with the oyster trade.
The lighthouse has served as a landmark, a guide and an icon for Maurice River, but lately, it’s served as the focal point of an issue in the community. Just beyond the iconic lighthouse sits a heavily-used boat ramp. Due to strong currents and rough weather, a one-foot gap has formed between the piling as the concrete of the ramp.
While the gap doesn’t cause problems for mariners, it has created problems for one prominent group of residents: the horseshoe crabs. That’s why a group of volunteers turned out on the beach Sunday to help fill in the crevice.
“This gap has basically become and big and dangerous crab trap,” said Jane Galetto, a member of Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River, better known as C.U. “These crabs needs to be able to access the shores to come up and lay their eggs but that’s not possible when this gap traps them and kills them.”
Galetto and other members of C.U. work to raise awareness of the area’s landscape, fighting against hazardous waste disposal and other practices that would hurt the Maurice River.
It’s a hefty task, but Galetto and C.U. were not working by themselves. Other organizations served to lend a helping hand to the cause. The efforts were consponsored by C.U. and reTURN the Favor, a collaborative effort that enables volunteer groups to save stranded horseshoe crabs. Through the efforts of reTURN the Favor, 30,000 horseshoe crabs from more than a dozen different locations have been saved.
The Wetlands Institute, Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife and New Jersey Division of Land Use Regulation also stepped in. Individual volunteers offered their assistance as well.
“Things like this, and chances to help out with such a good cause really draw people in from all over,” said Laura Chamberlin, a member of Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.
The volunteers spent the morning replacing small bits of rubble that the waves had washed out of the gap. From there, larger pieces were placed to hold the smaller pieces in place against the tides and currents.
“The water moved [the rubble] the first time so we’re putting it back different,” said Chamberlin. “It’s a wide, deep gap. We can’t always save all of the crabs and get them out, but we’re hoping this different placing can help. It’s all experimental.”
While the efforts are there, filling the gap with rubble is only a temporary solution that will require future upkeep.
“Volunteers will be coming out throughout the season and summer to check on things and adjust as needed,” said Lisa Ferguson, a volunteer from the Wetlands Institute. “There’s going to have to be a more substantial fix for the future but for now, this is what’s going to lessen the issue.”
Volunteers on local beaches have racked up more than 10,000 hours, saving countless crabs and other bay-area animals.
“These volunteers are go-getters,” said Galetto. “I really think through the efforts today and in the near future, we will solve this issue.”