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Horseshoe Crab Survey

Horseshoe Crab Survey

See what happens when volunteers gather each year to count these versatile creatures.

It is evident how happy crab counting makes Corinne Kee (with Joni and Todd Carpenter in the background).

Summoned by the moon and the tides, horseshoe crabs emerge from offshore at this time each year to spawn along the Delaware Bayshores. Exactly on cue, thousands of shorebirds arrive to feast on crab eggs during their migration between South America and the Canadian Arctic.

However shorebirds aren’t the only ones to descend upon the Bayshores in May and June to convene with crabs. Each year, a cadre of volunteers arrive to check in on these prehistoric creatures. In fact, Joni and Todd Carpenter have celebrated more than a decade of horseshoe crab surveys.

“We learned about this amazing phenomenon during a weekend trip to the Delaware beaches in the summer of 2002,” says Joni Carpenter, who lived in Ohio at the time. “We signed up for the 2003 horseshoe crab count after reading about it in Nature Conservancy magazine.”

They enjoyed the experience so much, they have made the trip back to help every year since.

Read a diary of the horseshoe crab count by a Conservancy staffer.

Adds Carpenter, “The sight of all the horseshoe crabs on the beach is awe inspiring and provides a bit of reassurance that humankind has not completely ruined the planet. I don't want to see this spectacle of nature that has been happening for 350 million years come to an end because of our species.”

Corinne Kee has made the 11-hour drive from Michigan for the past five years to play her part in ensuring healthy populations for both horseshoe crabs and the shorebirds which depend on them.

“My first count occurred at midnight during a full moon,” recalls Kee, who grew up in New Jersey and has ties to the east coast. “One minute you are just hanging out on the beach and then the tide turns and you need to look where you step for all the crabs!”

This year, the Carpenters and Kee comprise half of the volunteers usually involved in the count because The Nature Conservancy’s horseshoe crab census is limited to one beach instead of the usual two.

“Erosion won the battle at Bennett’s Beach, leaving only bay and marsh and little ground for census takers, or horseshoe crabs for that matter,” says Lois Davis, the Conservancy’s horseshoe crab survey volunteer coordinator. “It was also an issue last year, made worse by Superstorm Sandy. Some issues also exist at Big Stone Beach although we will proceed with the census this year.”

Likely it will take much more than extreme weather to deter counters like Joni and Todd Carpenter and Corinne Kee from helping the crabs and shorebirds convening along the eastern seaboard in May and June. Now living in Maryland, the Carpenters mark the event on their annual calendar – in pen, adding, “I think we will participate in the census as long as there are beaches and horseshoe crabs -- which means hopefully for a very long time.” 

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