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Horseshoe crab encounters to inspire coastal stewardship

UGA offering public a glimpse of spawning event April 29

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POSTED: April 13, 2017 8:00 a.m.

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.

To experience this seasonal phenomenon, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is inviting the public to one of Georgia’s barrier islands April 29.

“Each time I witness a horseshoe crab spawning event, it’s as exciting as seeing it for the first time,” said 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. They travel more than 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, and beaches in Georgia are an important stopover for red knots, as well as 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 said.

To help protect horseshoe crabs and shorebirds during the spawning season, Sanders suggested 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 kayla270@uga.edu. Pre-registration and payment of $22 per person is required by April 21.  Children age 10 and above are welcome but must be accompanied by an adult.

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