“Shell-a-brating” Healthy Ecosystems
This spring, I got to help with a project called the “Shell-A-Bration” in Newport, New Jersey. Newport is a town on the Delaware Bay. The Delaware Bay is a beautiful place with many different types of wildlife. Many people visit the Delaware Bay just to see the amazing birds that stop there during their migrations.
At the Shell-A-Bration I got to help build a reef from bags of whelk shells. The bags are made out of netting so that the water can move through them, but the shells will stay in place. To make the reef, the bags were lined up on the sand so that they will be covered by the water. One of the reasons that the reef was built is to help keep the sand on the beach from washing away. If the beach washes away, the animals that live there will disappear. I had so much fun getting to put on waders and helping to carry the bags of shells down to the water. The bags were pretty heavy, so we made a line where one person would pass the bag of shells to the next person until it got to the water. I definitely got very wet and muddy, but I had a great time.
Two animals that really depend on the Delaware Bay are the red knot and the horseshoe crab. The red knot is a bird that migrates every year from South America to the Arctic. In the spring, these birds leave South America and fly up to 9,000 miles to the tundra in the Arctic! They spend the spring and the summer in the Arctic and then fly back to South America for the winter. On the way to the Arctic, the red knots stop at the Delaware Bay to eat lots of food so that they can keep flying. One of their main foods at the Delaware Bay are horseshoe crab eggs.
Horseshoe crabs live in the water in the Delaware Bay. They get their name from their shape. The top part of their body looks like the shape of a horseshoe, and underneath they look like a crab. But they are actually more closely related to spiders than crabs. Once a year, horseshoe crabs come out onto the beaches and lay eggs. It is perfect timing because this happens at the same time when the red knots are stopping at the Delaware Bay on their way to the Arctic. As long as there are enough horseshoe crabs, the red knots will have enough to eat to finish flying to the Arctic. Scientists are worried because there are less red knots than there used to be. One way to help the red knots is to make sure that the horseshoe crabs have a place on the beach to lay their eggs. This is one of the reasons why they are building reefs, like the one that I got to help build at the Shell-A-Bration. Other wildlife, like fish, can also use the reefs as a place to live or to hide from predators.
I really enjoyed volunteering to help build the reef and also learning about animals that live in and around the Delaware Bay. I definitely want to go back next year to help build another reef!