Horsheshoe Crabs Wow Emerging Leader


By James Hemphill

I visited Fox Island as part of a sixth grade field trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  From that moment I was hooked on the Bay and estuary ecosystems of the east coast.  I met Don Baugh on a kayaking voyage to Cumberland Island.  I remember the anxious faces after we made landfall when we realized the latrine digging shovel was left at the last campsite.  Fortunately, I had my trusty foldable shovel and the trip was saved. I have led various environmental projects including oyster reef restoration, dumpster dives, and environmental advocacy.  I decided to pursue environmental science at Virginia Tech where I am a rising Junior.  I am also a midshipman in the U.S. Navy and look forward to my commission in two years.

On the recent Delaware Bay expedition, we witnessed the annual horseshoe crab spawning – a world class event.  This 450-million-year old ritual makes one feel out of place and time, realizing it was the horseshoe crabs who once owned the shoreline.

We began our journey on the Murderkill River, paddling through a vast expanse of meandering marshy creeks seemingly untouched by people.  Eventually we happened upon Bowers, Delaware, which seemed like an island of humanity surrounded by the elements. Several kayaks stopped to talk to the Captain and crew of the Maggie S. Myers, a 1893 Oyster Schooner.  This last-of-its-kind vessel is a living relic, keeping the pulse of the Delaware Bay’s coastal communities alive.  We only saw a few horseshoe crabs throughout the day, and we couldn’t foresee the scale of what was to take place that night.

With the setting of the sun and rise of the moon, the crabs marched to the beach in unfathomable abundance.  Only when one is reminded of the global travelers who have stopped here, including the migratory birds ruddy turnstone and red knot, does one understand the necessity of this abundance for the survival of species.  The seeming chaos was orchestrated all in a few hours, and by morning only the marks on the sand remained of this event. I left with an understanding of the critical necessity of this abundance for the existence of other species and the ecosystem of the Delaware Shore as a whole.

While these trips are organized to highlight nature, one gains wisdom and experience from other outdoorsmen and conservationists with broad expertise.  This is an opportunity for the old guardians of our environment to impart their experience on a younger generation, but also for the young environmentalist to share their ideas, commitment, and hope for a Bay where this event will continue for generations to come.