CAPE MAY COUNTY -
The annual spawning of horseshoe crabs is just weeks away.
"I'm here to make a difference, this is my way of volunteering," said volunteer Steve Leventelis.
Volunteers migrated to Kimbles Beach on Sunday to 'reTURN the Favor' a program of the New Jersey State Fish and Wildlife Service.
"We actually take volunteers that are pre-trained out on to the beaches in order to rescue horseshoe crabs that have become stranded on our local Delaware Bay beaches," said Katie Sellers, Conservation Scientist, The Wetland Institute.
In recent years, the horseshoe crab has seen a decline in population due to over fishing, loss of natural habitat and being overturned by rough waves or stuck on rocks leaving them vulnerable for predators or drying out by the sun.
"Just simply by flipping them over they can make their way back to the ocean and survive and we can make a big impact," said Estell Manor resident and volunteer Wayne Russell.
According to experts, horseshoe crabs are a vital part of the Delaware Bay ecosystem by spawning thousands of eggs annually, which attracts migratory birds.
In an effort to avoid disrupting the shore birds, 'reTURN the Favor' Walks occur at night.
"The night is the best time to see the spawning horseshoe crabs, but of course when the beaches are closed to protect the crabs and the shore birds. We have to be very careful about when we do it," said John King, Friends of Cape May National Wildlife Refuge volunteer.
"We have many permits in place in order to abide by the horseshoe crab moratorium and shore bird beach closures," said sellers
During the 'reTURN the Favor' walks, volunteers will stroll along the beaches and simply turn over horseshoe crabs as needed to help them return to the water. The group also tags and collects data.
In their inaugural season, 'reTURN the Favor' saved almost 5,000 horseshoe crabs during the course of 43 walks in 2013.
"We’re expecting to double that number this year, if possible," said Sellers.
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