By Christine Todd Whitman
June 15, 2012
I recently celebrated the release of a new book about the people and wildlife of Delaware Bay: Life Along the Delaware Bay. The book very colorfully informs us about the incredible array of important wildlife and fish of this great bay, as well as about the bay’s rich cultural resources, and the area’s rich fishing and agricultural history. The book’s primary focus, however, is the Delaware Bay’s monumental importance as a shorebird migratory stopover, one of the most crucial in the world.
As the book reminds us, after Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay is one of the East Coast’s largest and most diverse bays. Each year, half a million shorebirds – the largest gathering of migrating shorebirds in the Western Atlantic flyway – come to the bay to feed on the eggs of horseshoe crabs because the bay has the largest population of these crabs in the world. The Bay’s location is singularly relevant in its overlap between the ranges of many northern and southern bird species, and hence why New Jersey is the site of the annual World Series of Birding.
This, and the many other opportunities for recreation and tourism in the area, fuel an economic engine that is many millions of dollars strong. The marsh that fringes the open water of Delaware Bay is one of the most extensive wetlands on the entire east coast. In short, Delaware Bay is one of the most important estuaries in our country and it deserves great recognition, competent care and our pride.
We also need to bring about the permanent protection of this migratory stopover. Unfortunately that distinction is as far from us now as it was in 1997 when I first placed a moratorium on what had become a severely depletive harvest of horseshoe crabs. Despite our actions in New Jersey, the continued over-harvest of crabs elsewhere has led to a rapid decline of these otherwise resilient creatures, virtually destroying this migratory stopover. Now, at least one shorebird is threatened with extinction – the – and other species will follow if we fail to take sufficient action. New Jersey is doing its part and in February listed the Red Knot as endangered. I hope actions will follow elsewhere in time to prevent the total collapse of shorebird and horseshoe crab populations.
I strongly encourage you to read Life Along the Delaware Bay. Learn about the important natural history of this extraordinary place. Understand better the problems it faces. Appreciate why the horseshoe crab, a species that is essentially unchanged after 430 million years on this planet, and the Red Knot, are two of the most fascinating animals on earth. And see why we managed to plummet their numbers to crisis levels in just a few short years. As the book notes, horseshoe crabs “have survived ice ages and meteor strikes that caused the mass extinction of most other species, yet they may not survive the effect of modern man.” Finally, see why the sustainable management of the bays fisheries is critical to both our natural and cultural resources of the bay. I think you’ll see why Delaware Bay is one of the greatest natural places on earth, right in our own backyard.