University of Delaware
delware environmental institute

News Journal: Volunteers save horseshoe crabs during beach overhaul

In the glow of moonlight, volunteers wearing neon safety vests and hard hats waded into the surf, shining headlamps into the murky Delaware Bay and snatching horseshoe crabs from the frothy, green water. To the south, a pipeline spewed a slurry of sand and water. Bulldozers shaped and groomed the rapidly growing shoreline.

At Broadkill Beach, a dredge crew is working around the clock to pump 1.9 million cubic yards of sand and create a wider shoreline and dune for protection from storms. The Army Corps of Engineers project combines two initiatives: deepening the lowest reach of the Delaware River main shipping channel from 40 to 45 feet and using the dredged sand to restore the badly eroded and storm-damaged beach.

Of the $69.3 million total cost, $30 million is being spent to pump in the sand for the new beach.

But when the work commenced two months ago at the peak of the horseshoe crab spawning season, there was no protocol on how to save the creatures.

What these volunteers are doing is hand collecting hundreds of horseshoe crabs – 7,887 this spring and summer – before they can move onto the beach to spawn. They hope to save both the crabs and the pearly green, BB-sized eggs from being buried in tons of dredge sand.