Every spring horseshoe crabs congregate on beaches along the east coast to lay their eggs. These spawning events attract migratory shorebirds that utilize the horseshoe crab eggs to fuel their annual flight to nesting grounds in the Arctic.
On April 29, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is inviting the public to one of Georgia’s barrier islands to experience this unique, seasonal phenomenon.
“Each time I witness a horseshoe crab spawning event, it’s as exciting as seeing it for the first time,” says Dodie Sanders, marine educator and boat captain at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, part of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “Horseshoe crabs are an important natural resource for many reasons, one of which is their connection to migratory shorebirds, like the red knot and ruddy turnstone.”
Red knots may be small shorebirds but they make one of the longest migrations of any bird in the world, traveling over 9,000 miles from feeding grounds at the southernmost tip of South America to nesting sites in the Arctic Circle. Along the way, they have to stop to rest and eat so they have enough energy to complete their journey.
Beaches in Georgia are an important stopover for red knots and other migratory shorebirds. Shorebirds will time their migration to arrive during spawning season so they can feast on the abundant horseshoe crab eggs. When the birds are disturbed, they lose critical time to refuel and gain fat they need to complete the remaining flight to the arctic.
“We hope that by bringing folks out to witness this event, they’ll be more mindful of sharing the beach with wildlife and giving shorebirds plenty of space,” Sanders says.
To help protect horseshoe crabs and shorebirds during the spawning season, Sanders suggests gently flipping over the horseshoe crabs that get stuck on their back on the beach. Also, keep all dogs on leashes while at the beach.
During this year’s trip, educators from UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant will provide spotting scopes and binoculars for shorebird observations. They’ll also educate participants about how scientists collect data each spawning season by observing mating behavior, documenting nesting areas and measuring external features of the horseshoe crabs.
To participate, contact Kayla Clark at (912) 598-3345 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Pre-registration and payment of $22 per person is required by Friday, April 21, 2017. Children age 10 and above are welcome but must be accompanied by an adult.