Spawning Horseshoe Crab Surveys

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A pair of horseshoe crabs digging into the substrate in Great Bay, NH.Existing as “living fossils,” horseshoe crabs have been around since the age of the dinosaurs and they have had an effect on us one way or another. Their unique blue blood is important to the biomedical industry to test for impurities in drugs and they serve as bait in the eel and whelk fisheries. However, their population is in jeopardy due to overharvesting.

Therefore, in recent years, many states along the U.S. Atlantic East coast have developed programs to better monitor and manage this precious resource. In particular, each spring most states conduct spawning surveys to estimate the population of horseshoe crabs and in certain areas, these monitoring programs are well established and very successful.

In contrast, little is known about the population of horseshoe crabs that reside in the Great Bay Estuary, NH. Current management plans have not yet estimated either the total number of horseshoe crabs in Great Bay or mapped the locations of where most of these animals aggregate within the estuary. In addition, New Hampshire is the only state in New England that does not participate in an annual horseshoe crab survey. This lack of information is especially critical as horseshoe crabs face growing threats from overharvesting, increasing coastal development, and pollution, and climate change. Clearly, it is both timely and important to learn more about the horseshoe crab population in Great Bay, and the habitats that are critical for their reproduction and development.

During the summer 2012, our team of researchers from the University of New Hampshire created and conducted surveys to look for and count spawning horseshoe crabs in Great Bay Estuary using methods that are consistent with a variety of State agencies.  A major aspect of this project is the communication and collaboration with managers, biologists and residents of the community. Last year, interested residents of the surrounding community participated in the horseshoe crabs spawning surveys. Volunteers were very pleased and excited to see these amazing animals in their natural habitat and to see the effort of their work based on the results we have collected. News and enthusiasm has already spread about helping us again survey this summer. We hope to involve more citizens of the community to help us again with the Great Bay Spawning Horseshoe Crab Surveys.