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Community Supports Red Knot Conservation
Photo Credit: Gregory Breese, USFWS
A group of conservation organizations is building a base of red knot fans in the Delaware Bay. While this may sound like a strategy for a sports team, this group is dedicated to the conservation of a rare shorebird that faces serious declines in its populations.
The red knot (Calidris canutus ssp. rufa) stops to rest in the Delaware Bay during its 9,000-mile (14,500-kilometer) journey from their wintering grounds in the southern tip of South America to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. The Delaware Bay provides the crucial stopover habitat and food to fuel the red knot's final leg to the Arctic. Year after year, the birds arrive here in May to feast on the eggs of horseshoe crabs.
"The conservation community has dedicated efforts to educate local communities about the importance of the Delaware Bay to migratory birds like the red knot," says Caleb Spiegel, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shorebird biologist. "Despite the recent stability of the red knot population, it remains low and vulnerable to climate change."
Faced with a population crisis for red knots and other shorebirds that visit the Delaware Bay, many organizations are using innovative approachs to help protect this iconic bird.
"We've worked with our local partners on three campaigns in Patagonia, Argentina, for red knots," says Charles Duncan, director of Manomet's Shorebird Recovery Project. "The conservation outcomes are more than impressive. Now we want to replicate those successes at Delaware Bay."
The campaign includes four distinct tactics, all designed to engage and empower the local community to act on behalf of the red knot and their own interests.
Photo Credit: Just flip 'em!®, www.horseshoecrab.org
Backyard Stewardship: The Ecological Research & Development Group (ERDG) launched its Backyard Stewardship™ community based horseshoe crab sanctuary program in 1999, designed to encourage coastal communities to declare their shared habitat a horseshoe crab conservation area or sanctuary. On June 13th, 2000, then Delaware Governor Thomas Carper visited Broadkill Beach, Delaware to recognize this community for working with ERDG in establishing Delaware's first community based horseshoe crab sanctuary.
Just Flip 'Em (DE): ERDG has also stepped up for many years to conserve horseshoe crabs through a program that encourages people to take the time to assist and appreciate these remarkable creatures, who will not survive public indifference. The idea is simple: when you see a horseshoe crab that is stranded upside down on the beach, flip them over. It's important not to flip them by their tail, however. Even though it looks scary, the tail is delicate and can be easily damaged. The best way to turn the animals is by the edge of their shell. No need to be cautious; the horseshoe crab doesn't bite or sting and it's claws are very gentle and won't hurt you.
Re-turn the Favor (NJ): A program similar to ERDG's Just Flip 'Em program encourages community members to help reduce horseshoe crab mortality by rescuing crabs that have been turned over by waves or have become trapped behind bulkheads or other human-built structures. The name "Re-turn the Favor" reflects the key role that horseshoe crabs play in protecting human health, as well as their irreplaceable role in the Delaware Bay ecosystem.
Delaware Bay Conservation Leaders Program: This program invites community leaders from many sectors – small-business owners, town and state officials, faith-based groups, sportsmen's associations – to join the international shorebird research team for a day. With guidance from the researchers, participants capture and band shorebirds alongside some of the world's best-known shorebird scientists. The opportunity to hold a migratory bird in one's hands can be transformative.
Association of NJ Bayshore Communities: This program seeks to replicate the success of Delaware's Alliance of Bay Communities as a way to empower local communities to be heard and included in political dialogue concerning the protection of their natural resources.
Delaware Bay Digital Connection: The goal of this program is to use traditional news media as well as digital networking tools to help unite and mobilize community members who are concerned about red knot conservation. These platforms communicate advances, challenges, and opportunities for individual action to create an informed and engaged community.
Together, these strategies are enhancing the work of existing conservation groups and agencies around a positive common-ground message through collaboration rather than competition. It is ultimately through the actions of individuals, that a species can recover. The strategies developed by the partnership offer engagement, learning, and most of all hope for the red knot's persistence.
Deb Reynolds, an outreach coordinator for the Service's Northeast Region's Migratory Bird Program and the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, can be reached at email@example.com.
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