Did you know?
Each spring New Jersey is host to the largest concentration of shorebirds in North America.
Shorebird conservation relies upon protection of shorebirds themselves as well as protection of their prey and habitat.
Federal and State Protection
Bird conservation at the federal level began in the early 1900s. To counter the devastating effects of rampant hunting and trade, the 1900 Lacey Act, the 1913 Weeks-McLean Act, and the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) claimed federal authority for migratory birds in the United States. Although the MBTA is a landmark in the United States’ commitment to bird conservation and remains the only federal protection currently provided for Red Knots, this statute is not drawn on by today’s conservationists. Because shorebird decline is not caused by illegal hunting or trade in the United States, conservationists need to ensure protection of shorebird habitat and food resources. The MBTA only affords protection for nesting sites – which, for shorebirds, are not even located in the United States – and does not protect wintering or migrating sites, like the shorebirds’ critical Delaware Bay stopover.
The federal authority that does have the potential to facilitate red knot conservation is the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). This act authorizes the listing of species as endangered and threatened, reinforces the illegality of unauthorized endangered species “take,” and establishes civil and criminal penalties for violation. The ESA also provides authority for land acquisition of habitat for listed species and institutes a number of grants to state endangered species programs. The Act has been heralded for a number of successes, including the Florida panther, gray wolf, grizzly bear, peregrine falcon, red-cockaded woodpecker, and – perhaps the most well known case of ESA extinction prevention – the bald eagle. With this level of success, Endangered Species Act listing is the red knot’s best chance at conservation by sufficient federal power and funding. After official petition in 2004, the red knot was named a candidate for the federal Endangered Species Act in 2006. The red knot was officially listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in December 2014. Learn more about the listing on the Conserve Wildlife blog.
As in so many environmental policy areas, the task of protecting natural resources has fallen to individual states. State agencies, often working with nongovernmental organizations, collect the data that informs and directs federal policymaking. States are in the forefront, providing “the boots on the ground” by collecting data, monitoring species status and habitat availability, and sounding the first alarm when conservation efforts are needed. Furthermore, state acts like the New Jersey Endangered Species Conservation Act (1973) have provided protection for shorebirds where federal statutes have not. In 1999, this Act listed the red knot as endangered, allowing the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife to institute seasonal closures of key shorebird beaches to help prevent their extinction.
New Jersey Horseshoe Crab Harvest Moratorium
Due to overharvesting by fishing industries, Delaware Bay horseshoe crab numbers have declined dramatically. This has directly caused shorebird populations stopping over in the Bay to nosedive as well. To lessen and reverse crab decline, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission began implementing horseshoe crab harvest restrictions in 1998. By this time, certain states, such as New Jersey, had already begun implementing their own restrictions, and have continued to pursue progressive conservation efforts that extend beyond ASMFC restrictions.
New Jersey’s enactment of a statewide horseshoe crab moratorium is a testament to our commitment to save both crabs and shorebirds. Tireless efforts by the New Jersey Audubon Society and the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Species Program, with support from the American Littoral Society and Delaware Riverkeeper, were backed by a solid database of scientific research by the International Shorebird Team. Because of this community of partnered conservation organizations across both the private and public sector, the New Jersey horseshoe crab harvest moratorium garnered a majority vote in the state legislature and was signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine in 2008.
To read more about the moratorium, please visit the Shorebird/Horseshoe Crab Conservation Campaign Archive.
On October 29th 2012, Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey’s Atlantic and Delaware Bay coast. Post-storm aerial surveys found that Sandy had destroyed nearly 70% of the available horseshoe crab spawning habitat - potentially meaning a catastrophic loss of eggs and placing the very survival of Red Knots and other shorebird species in jeopardy.
With a potential ecological disaster just six months away, a team of biologists, geomorphologists, restoration practitioners, and regulatory officials set out to reverse the damage in time for the start of spawning season in late April. Within a few months, the team raised 1.4 million dollars and focused restoration on five of the Delaware Bay beaches most commonly used by horseshoe crabs and shorebirds.
In all, the team restored 1.4 miles of beaches, carefully varying physical parameters to better understand the key qualities of horseshoe crab and shorebird habitat. In May 2013, high densities of spawning crabs, their eggs, and foraging shorebirds on the restored beaches indicated that the project had been successful. How the reconstructed beaches were utilized will advise future beach reclamation projects - both on the Delaware Bay and beyond.
The work to restore Delaware Bay's beaches has continued through 2015. To date:
- 7 Delaware Bay beaches have been restored, over the course of 120 days of restoration work
- 2.44 miles of beachfront have been restored
- 911.5 tons of rubble have been removed
- 4,247 tons of road repair material has been used
- 7,467 truckloads of sand have been delivered
- 167,787 tons of sand have been placed
Greener NJ Productions Restoration Videos
- "Heroic Efforts, Extraordinary People and Truckloads of Sand"
- "Spring Tides and Smart Networks"
- "Sampling Sand and Overcoming Obstacles"
- "Without a Day to Spare"
- ". . . these tiny little birds that you hold in your hand . . ."
Seasonal Delaware Bay Beach Closures
The Delaware Bay is a critical stopover for migratory shorebirds, who stop each spring to feed on the fat-rich eggs of the horseshoe crab before heading to the Canadian Arctic to breed. Many of these birds will need to nearly double in weight in just two weeks to have enough energy to complete this flight. With numbers of horseshoe crabs (and their eggs) greatly reduced, it is critical that shorebirds be able to focus on feeding, rather than wasting energy flying away to avoid people and pets.
For this reason, since 2003 various bay beaches have been closed to the public during the peak migration season from May 7 to June 7. Closed areas aree marked with printed signs and rope fencing from the street end to the water's edge. With the exception of a few specially permitted scientists, no one is allowed into these closed areas, allowing shorebirds to feed undisturbed. A small section remains open at most of these beaches for shorebird viewing and other human use.
Seasonal Delaware Bay & Atlantic Coast Beach Closure Location Map - this map shows which beaches are subject to these seasonal closures. Detailed maps of the closed areas are linked from the map by clicking on the beach name. Closed areas on those maps are indicated in red.
Report a sighting
Report a sighting of a banded shorebird or rare species.