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The sea creatures, which are over 350 million years old and known as “living dinosaurs,” have been critical to the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

Asbury Park Press

During the full and new moon events in May and June, thousands of horseshoe crabs come ashore to spawn, primarily in the Delaware Bay. It is also during this time when migrating shorebirds descend upon the beaches to rest and feed on the horseshoe crab eggs before continuing onto their breeding grounds. This interaction between horseshoe crab, shorebird and humans is what lays the ground works for the Green Eggs & Sand (GE&S) workshop.

This year, the GE&S workshop will be a virtual workshop, online from May 6 through June 3, one day each week. This workshop focuses on promoting more understanding of the issues, the science, and the management of the horseshoe crab/shorebird controversy. Workshop participants will learn from top researchers and natural managers in the field, as well as get to participate in a horseshoe crab count.

Educators and natural resource managers from Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey developed the curriculum, and designed it for use with middle and high school students. It is broken down into four modules that introduce students and attendees to the lives of horseshoe crabs, their extraordinary history, their ecological niche, their interrelationships with other species, and the challenges of managing horseshoe crabs.

The curriculum provides video and activity components that can be incorporated into any classroom! At the end of the workshop participants take home the activity rich GE&S curriculum package and video that has been correlated to the national-learning standards in science, social studies, math, and language arts.

This year the workshop will be offered online with virtual meetups. New Jersey teachers will be invited to an in-person trip to a horseshoe crab spawning beach.

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The deadline to register is April 30. To register, send an email with your name and school or organization affiliation to Karen Byrne at karen.byrne@dep.nj.gov or call 609-947-1201. Details of the program are also available online at www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/greeneggs.htm.

Rutgers and horseshoe crabs

The Delaware Bay is one of the largest horseshoe crab spawning areas in the world. Horseshoe crab is a key species in the estuary’s ecosystem because of its importance as food for migrating shore birds, in medical research, and as bait for commercial fisheries.

The abundance of horseshoe crabs in the Bay declined considerably in the latter half of the 20th century, largely due to overharvesting. New Jersey has imposed a moratorium on their harvest since 2008 and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has curtailed harvest along the Mid-Atlantic. As such, there is strong interest to conserve and revitalize populations of this globally significant species.

The New Jersey Aquaculture Innovation Center at Rutgers University is piloting research to evaluate the feasibility of large-scale aquaculture of horseshoe crab eggs harvested from suboptimal Delaware Bay beaches. The AIC is ideally suited for this effort having both seawater pumping capacity and base infrastructure to support a culture system using the same Delaware Bay water that hosts the natural population.

An aquaculture setting would provide early life stage horseshoe crabs protection from predation and increase and enhance their survivorship. Young horseshoe crabs would then be released in the wild at 4-12 months of age.

The project also aims to develop a mark-recapture program that can be used to assess the success of a hatchery program for stock enhancement. The tagging effort will mirror other tagging efforts that have been successfully used for other molting crustaceans, such as blue crabs and spiny lobster. Trials will be conducted with horseshoe crabs maintained in the hatchery to assess the use and success of the tag before the horseshoe crabs are released into the wild.

“Many mobile species have startlingly different larval and adult stages with different ways and paths of movement and with ecological niches as different as between caterpillars and butterflies,” stated Thomas Grothues, associate research professor at the Center. “One of the ways to study movement is through the use of electronic tracking devices. Our tanks are large enough for experiments on how to best tag and track horseshoe crabs, especially small juveniles. This information would help with an understanding of how aquaculture practices could benefit struggling horseshoe crab populations.”

The New Jersey Aquaculture Innovation Center at Rutgers University is poised to play a critical role in the growth of aquaculture. In addition to direct employment, aquaculture producers create jobs in shore-side communities such as seafood processing, marketing, transportation, and vessel maintenance. This Center is an extremely flexible facility designed to meet the research, technology, demonstration, and extension needs of the aquaculture community. For more information, visit their website at aic.rutgers.edu.

reTURN the Favor

This collaborative effort enables organized volunteer groups to save horseshoe crabs stranded on New Jersey’s seasonally closed and open beaches. Since 2013, reTURN the Favor volunteers have saved over 600,000 horseshoe crabs along the Delaware Bayshore beaches in New Jersey!

Want to get involved? All volunteers interested in conducting their own walks for the program must attend a reTURN the Favor training, even if you have participated before. The required program materials will be mailed to virtual training attendees or available for pick-up. Returning volunteer trainings are already scheduled for 10 to 11:30 a.m. April 17 and 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 21. For new volunteers who have never attended a training session, conducted walks, or submitted data, training is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. May 18.

For more information and to register for these sessions, please visit returnthefavornj.org.

Nicholas Polanin is associate professor, agricultural agent II, Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension of Somerset County. Email him at polanin@njaes.rutgers.edu.

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