Conserve Wildlife Blog

Archive for the ‘Habitat Restoration’ Category

Fishing For A Cleaner Barnegat Bay

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Ghost pots in Barnegat Bay

By: Emily Heiser; Wildlife Biologist

Derelict fishing gear continues to plague the depths of Barnegat Bay.  Often lost through storm events or due to boat traffic, lost or abandoned crab pots (ghost pots) become an unintentional deathtrap for a variety of marine species and reduce otherwise harvestable resources.  CWF and their partners at MATES, Stockton, and ALS have been working to recover lost pots in Barnegat Bay since 2015.

Over the course of the last three field seasons, 1,300 crab pots have been recovered and their bycatch has been extensively documented.  Notably, CWF and MATES have been focusing on how to further help northern diamondback terrapins who often find themselves caught in ghost pots.  In 2016, one pot contained the remains of 17 terrapins.

As we enter the fourth field season of pot collections, the project hopes to not only recover as may pots as possible, but also to glean further information on how the pots move in a variety of substrates and under a variety conditions.  To bring further awareness to the issue, CWF teamed up with the awesome folks at Citizen Racecar to produce a short informational film about ghost fishing and its effects on Barnegat Bay.  Visit our Facebook page to view the video: https://www.facebook.com/wildlifenj/

This project is funded primarily by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with additional support by the New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership and New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Covanta and Schnitzer Steel also support the project by recycling the metal in the retrieved crab pots.

 

Conserving the Nature of the Northeast Blog: Restoration brings back red knots, piping plovers & saltmarsh sparrows

Thursday, December 6th, 2018
Story by Darci Palmquist, Conserving the Nature of the Northeast

A saltmarsh sparrow photographed in Delaware. Credit: Matt Tillett, creative commons.

Even if you’re not a birder, there are a lot of reasons to care about birds. There are of course their aesthetic qualities — beautiful, charming, euphonious — and their incredible feats of survival as small creatures in a big, ever-changing world.

But like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, when birds aren’t doing well it usually means their habitat is suffering in some way. And if the habitat isn’t functioning, people lose out too; on the benefits that nature provides, from clean air and water to storm defenses.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Fish and Wildlife Service invested in restoring and protecting natural systems up and down the East Coast that provide important habitat for wildlife while also creating natural defenses for people. A big part of building this stronger coast is making sure that wildlife like shorebirds have the habitat they need — the marshes, beaches and dunes — to nest, feed and raise their young.

Here are stories of how restoration efforts are helping ensure a brighter future for three bird species — red knotpiping plover and saltmarsh sparrow.

Click here to read more.

Early days on Delaware Bay – Horseshoe Crabs Just Beginning To Breed as Shorebirds Arrive

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

by Larry Niles

Horseshoe Crabs Just Beginning To Breed as Shorebirds Arrive

 

Delaware Bay horseshoe crab eggs reach sufficient levels to give red knots and other shorebirds a good start on the fat they need to fuel the last leg of their yearly journey in the first week of the stopover ( May 12-19).  Knots need at least 180 grams to fly to the Arctic and breed successfully.  This week we caught birds that weighed 93 grams which is 30 grams below fat-free weight.  These birds had just arrived from a long flight, probably from Tierra del Fuego, Chile or Maranhão, Brazil.  In the same catch, we weighed red knots as high as 176 grams or only 5 grams from the 180-gram threshold.  These birds are probably from Florida or the Caribbean wintering areas and so arrive earlier,  resulting in them having more time to gain weight.  All together it looks like a normal early migration and a modest horseshoe crab spawn, just barely enough for the birds in the bay.

shorebirds in a net

Our team prepares a catch of knots turnstones and semipalmated sandpipers for extraction to keeping cages. The birds will be covered to prevent feather abrasion before extraction (Photo by Stephanie Feigin)

However, we are still short of about half the population.  Our bay wide count won’t take place until next week on May 22 and 26. At this point it looks like we have about 14,000 knots in the bay, of which 8,000 are in New Jersey. In the last 5 years we have had a bay wide population of about 24,000 red knots.  The situation is similar for ruddy turnstones and sanderlings.  The southernly winds of the next few days will almost certainly bring in the rest of the flock by mid-week.

The Stopover Habitat is Growing

 

The condition of the stopover is mixed.

The work of Niles & Smith Conservation Services, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ, and American Littoral Society continues to supply high-quality habitat for horseshoe crabs. We have developed an efficient system for maintaining the essential requirements of a good spawning beach, deep and large grain sand with berm heights that prevent over washing in a way that keeps cost down. First, by creating low oyster reefs to break waves in lower tides, thus protecting beaches from wind waves at low and mid tides.  Second, by placing sand on beaches that typically erode fast losing sands to adjacent creek inlets and the next beach south.  This way we can use one restoration to restore three different places.  For example, Cooks Beach loses sand to South Reeds.

 

restored beach in Delaware Bay

Thompsons beach before and after restoration by American Littoral Society and partners. (Photo by Larry Niles)

Oddly these successes may be contributing to the next big problem for the birds. The state of Delaware has been carrying out much larger scale beach replenishment projects that have added significant new sandy beach for crabs spawning.  At the same time the Atlantic States Marine Fish Commission has failed to deliver on its promise to increase the number of crabs.  The population is still 1/3 below carrying capacity or the number that existed 20 years ago.  The same number of crab divided by more beach equals decreasing crab densities.  Decreasing densities means fewer eggs reaching the surface because crabs are not digging up existing eggs to lay their own.

In other words, we need more crabs.

The Industry Finds New Ways around the ARM Quota

 

But the resource agencies seem perfectly happy to keep killing adult crabs for both bait and bleeding at near historically high numbers. Bait harvests recorded as coming from the bay have stayed the same, however other states such as NY are still taking and landing large numbers of crabs despite having no known crab historic population of their own. Additionally, Virginia states that a crab population still exists in the state, even though most field biologists consider them lost.  The truth is they are very likely taking Delaware Bay crabs and landing them as their own.

The Conservation groups are no longer satisfied with this loose regulation and are calling for regulations similar to those used for Striped Bass.  The Delaware Bay harvest should be restricted to just the quota agreed upon by everyone through the Adaptive Resource Management system.  All other landed crabs should be genetically linked to a source population, and if they do in fact come from Delaware Bay they should be taken out of the ARM quota. No one should be allowed to get away with killing our crabs outside the quota.

Or just stop the senseless killing of these valuable animals as bait for the dying couch fishery.

 

crab eggs graph on Delaware Bay

This graph compares the finding of Botton et al 1994 from horsesoe crab egg surveys done in 1990 and recent counts done in 2017

 

The same goes for the killing of crabs by the companies bleeding crabs.  The industry makes untold millions (the numbers are hidden from the public) but does virtually nothing to conserve the crabs while killing thousands. Their own estimate is well over 65,000 a year, but independent estimates double that.  This killing could also stop because a new synthetic lysate is available and can be used now, potentially cutting the need for natural lysate by 90%.

An Ecosystem Collapse and the Need for More Crabs

 

Why kill such a valuable animal?  It all started because the fishing industries saw little value and figured why not destroy the population until they are no longer economically viable.  Its called economic extinction and sadly it’s a tradition amongst Delaware Bay fishers still carried out this to this day on eels, conch, and other species.  But they didn’t know back in the early 90’s they would wrecking the entire ecosystem.

In 1991, we counted an average of 80,000 horseshoe crabs/meter squared.  Now we count 8,000.  Then the eggs stayed at that level for all of May and June then hatched young at similar densities. In other words, the horseshoe crab was a keystone producer of an abundant resource that maintained the bay ecosystem.  It was not just chance that at the same time the bay has one of the most productive weakfish and blue claw crab fisheries in the Atlantic coast.  Fish populations blossomed with the flush of horseshoe crab eggs and hatched young each year.

Now we must bring it back.  For the birds, for the fish, and for the people who love to bird and fish.

 

storm delaware bay horseshoe crabs

A storm looms over Delaware Bay. The last 4 days have been rain, some intense and cold. The water temperature needs to be 59 degrees or so for Crabs to spawn. On Saturday the 19th the water temperature fell below and the spawn virtually stopped in many places. It should resume with the warmer temperatures of Saturday and Sunday.

We are grateful to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other donors who make this project possible.

Dr. Larry Niles has led efforts to protect red knots and horseshoe crabs for over 30 years.

Ghost Fishing

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

How CWF Is Fighting This Threat to Wildlife in Barnegat Bay

by Emily Heiser, Wildlife Biologist

 

For many coastal communities in New Jersey, like the Barnegat Bay region, winter is a time for rejuvenation and the preparation of our resources for a busy summer season.  It only makes sense that we also start to prepare the coast’s most precious resource – the bay.  

 

Barnegat Bay is approximately 42 miles of brackish marsh and bay bordering Ocean County.  The bay and surrounding marshlands are rich in vital resources that directly and indirectly support over 60,000 jobs and have an economic value of $2 to $4 billion dollars annually (Barnegat Bay Partnership Economic Report 2012).   

 

Pots are often heavily encrusted with organisms and can contain several different species of bycatch. @ John Wenk

Part of that economic value is attributed to the tremendous blue claw crab fishery in the bay.  The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife estimates that commercial and recreational crabbers harvest around 6 million crabs per year from New Jersey waters.  Barnegat Bay, along with Little Egg Harbor and the Maurice River estuary comprise approximately 65-86% of the recreational harvest that occurs annually.  Recreational crabbers use a variety of methods, but typically rely on baited pots or hand lines for crabbing.  Regulations exist for the use of pots, but their unintentional loss has created an economic and environmental problem for all portions of Barnegat Bay.

 

CWF, along with our partners, has been diligently organizing and executing what is essentially a cleanup of these pots within Barnegat Bay.  In 2015 and 2017, CWF was granted a NOAA Marine Debris Removal Program grant to support the removal of derelict crab pots, also know as ghost pots, from Barnegat Bay.  Over the course of the last three years, we have removed over 1,300 crab pots that have become a death trap for a variety of marine organisms, including diamondback terrapins and otherwise fishable blue crabs.  

 

Students from the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science assist in assessing pots after they’ve been pulled from the bay. @John Wenk

All of the fieldwork on this project occurs during the chilling winter months when only the hardiest of fishermen can be found on the water.   The blue crab season is open in most parts of the state from March 15th – November 30th leaving the coldest months to head out and collect pots that are not supposed to be actively fishing.  Several partners have made this project a possibility – the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, Stockton University, Monmouth University, ReClam the Bay, American Littoral Society, and through contracts with local fishermen.  

 

Using side-scan sonar units, crews head out in early December to start looking for ghost pots.  Once a sufficient number of pots have been marked, waypoints are transferred over to retrieval crews.  Retrieving the pots sounds easy in theory, but can be time-consuming and success is dependent on many compounding factors such as substrate, weather, and tidal conditions.  Upon relocation of a surveyed pot, the captain must line the boat up to the best of their ability and with as much accuracy as they can, instructs the crew where to throw the grapple line.  Often you hear them call out, “Five feet – left center” and amazingly, the crew throws the grapple and hooks into a pot!  Depending on the substrate and how long the pot has been on the bay floor, it can be very difficult and dangerous to leverage out.  With the use of just the right amount of engine power, sunken pots can be delicately coaxed out of the water and lifted onto the boat by crews.  Once a pot is on the boat, a rapid assessment is done to look for unintended bycatch, pot design, and encrusting organisms.  Some of the various bycatch that has been found in pots include several species of crabs, lobster, flounder, tautog, and sadly, several diamondback terrapins.  One pot contained the remains of more than 17 diamondback terrapins.  

 

Ghost pots are disposed of by NFWF and Covanta’s Fishing for Energy Program where they will be recycled and turned into energy. @John Wenk

After a day of retrievals, the crew heads back to the marina where pots are placed in a disposal bin.  The bins are provided to the project through the successful Fishing for Energy Program run by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Covanta Energy, and Schnitzer Steel.  Gear collected from our port is stripped for recyclable materials at Schnitzer Steel and then non-recyclable material is turned into energy at Covanta’s facility in Rahway, New Jersey.  The holistic nature of this project breathes life into the term, “reduce, reuse, recycle”.

 

Barnegat Bay’s ghost pots exemplify an overarching issue of our environment, human-wildlife conflicts.  The Bay’s vital resources drive the economy and addressing these issues make us better stewards of the Bay and its resources.

Grassland Birds of New Jersey

Thursday, December 28th, 2017
Part II: Restoring Critical Breeding Habitat

by Meghan Kolk, Wildlife Biologist

In Part I of this series, I discussed the drastic loss of grasslands in New Jersey and the importance of preserving and restoring this disappearing habitat for grassland-dependent bird species.  Due to this habitat loss, in much of the northeastern United States (including New Jersey) airports have become significant breeding grounds for many threatened and endangered grassland birds.  In fact, airports are often the only suitable habitat available for New Jersey’s rarest grassland bird, the upland sandpiper.  If these large expanses of open fields are managed properly, they can support nesting birds while still remaining safe for aircraft operation.  This is the goal of CWF’s new restoration project at one of the most critical breeding sites in New Jersey.

Restoration site at Lakehurst breeding grounds, December 2017. Photo by Meghan Kolk.

The Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL) in central New Jersey hosts the largest known breeding colony of the endangered upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), and the second-largest known breeding colony of the threatened grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) in the State.  The bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), horned lark (Eremophila alpestris) (all threatened) and eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna) (special concern) all make a home here as well during the nesting season.  CWF has  partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore hundreds of acres of this vital land to increase suitability and to alter management practices to benefit both wildlife and airfield operations. (more…)

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