by Dr. Lisa Ferguson, Director of Research & Conservation
Earlier this year, reTURN the Favor (RTF) program volunteers were busy on the beaches of the Delaware Bay rescuing stranded horseshoe crabs. Early May through early June is the period when Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, and other long-distance migratory shorebirds arrive to cover expansive swaths of the bay in a feeding frenzy. The birds visit these beaches, of course, because of the hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs climbing ashore to spawn, so these weeks are also prime time for RTF volunteers who set their schedules to the dim and dark hours with courtesy to the hungry shorebirds. The sight is a wonder, no matter how many times you see it.
In the first week of May alone nearly 2,000 crabs were turned over by volunteers to prevent desiccation and predation and freed from various assortments of rubble and hazards lining the shore. By the end of the prime migration period, over 88,500 crabs were saved during 379 RTF walks. On one of these outings, unbeknownst to the volunteer, the millionth crab was rescued and tallied for RTF. No banners flew, no confetti fell from the sky, but a major milestone was reached for the program, now in its 11th year. The volunteer carried on saving the next crabs and then the next, choosing to participate in small actions that add up to make a difference for the Delaware Bay.
You can learn more about RTF at returnthefavornj.org. If you want to get invovled, you can join RTF in 2024 or support horseshoe crab conservation through a donation or symbolic horseshoe crab adoption.