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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13371

Beach restoration improves habitat quality for American horseshoe crabs and shorebirds in the Delaware Bay, USA

Joseph A. M. Smith*, Lawrence J. Niles, Steven Hafner, Aleksandr Modjeski, Tim Dillingham

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Beach nourishment is commonly conducted to protect human infrastructure but rarely for the primary purpose of improving wildlife habitat. To improve horseshoe crab spawning and shorebird feeding habitat in the Delaware Bay, NJ, we removed 2,000 tons of shoreline rubble and placed sand on 16 hectares of degraded shoreline spanning 8 beaches. Horseshoe crab egg cluster abundance varied annually, seasonally and spatially. Beaches restored using sand with grain size fractions similar to native sand had horseshoe crab egg cluster abundances matching or exceeding that of high-quality reference beaches. Deeper sand with a higher coarse-grain fraction resulted in the highest egg cluster abundance across all sites and beaches, while finer-grained sand used on a subset of restored beaches was associated with lower egg cluster abundances. These patterns were also reflected in shallow egg availability for shorebirds, with egg cluster abundance correlating positively with shallow egg abundance. Over time, sand placed on beaches moved cross-shore, longshore, and overwashed into marshes. Longshore sand movement nourished adjacent beaches and ebb shoals at creek mouths. Such shoals attract spawning horseshoe crabs and have high densities of surface eggs available for shorebird feeding, but experience high attrition of egg clusters. This study demonstrates that investments in beach restoration provide important benefits for horseshoe crabs and shorebirds. Outcomes can be further improved by expanding project scope and integrating other coastal restoration strategies. Restoration will be critical for the conservation of coastal species as sea levels rise and current and past coastal management practices continue to degrade habitats.