Beach replenishment restores Horseshoe Crab habitat -

Beach replenishment restores Horseshoe Crab habitat

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The work is a race against Mother Nature's clock.

"May is when they start coming so we're up against a tight deadline," said Heidi Hanlon, Wildlife Biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

And for the Horseshoe Crabs and migratory shore birds that feed on their eggs, it could be a matter of life and death.

"If they don't build up that weight, they either die on the way to the Arctic or they can’t breed," said Dr. Larry Niles with the American Littoral Society.

That is why a 1.6 million dollar restoration project is underway at four bayshore beaches in Cape May County, and one in Cumberland County.

"About 70% of the habitat had been lost so either the sand got pushed out to sea or it got pushed into the marsh out of reach from the breeding crabs," said Niles.

Officials say a similar emergency restoration project took place last year after the storm. Now with more time and planning, officials say the race is on to restore the home of the largest Horseshoe Crab population in the world.

"It’s making the beaches deep enough so the crabs can lay their eggs," said Hanlon.

And by doing so, they provide a vital meal for the endangered Red Knot during its journey from South America to the Arctic.

"The Red Knot, which is one of the birds, is on the endangered species list, without this work we may lose these animals forever," said Executive Director of the American Littoral Society, Tim Dillingham.

In just the four Cape May Beaches alone, 1000 truck loads will deliver 25 tons of sand. While the goal is to restore and protect the Horseshoe Crab habitat, the human population in the area will also benefit.

"Losing these beaches for the people that live along here is threatening because if you don't have any beach, that mean's you're next," said Niles.

Officials also estimate eco-tourism in the area brings in 35 million dollars a year.

In a habitat already in bad shape pre–Sandy, officials hope the work brings the habitat back from the brink of destruction.

"In many ways Hurricane Sandy would have been the nail in the coffin, the final nail in the coffin, for the Horseshoe Crabs and Red Knots if we had not begun these beach restoration projects," said David Wheeler, Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation.

Officials say restoration efforts on Kimble’s Beach were completed last Monday while work on Pierce's Point is expected to wrap up on Monday. The project as a whole is expected to be completed before the crabs and birds arrive in May.

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