Sunday, June 5, 2016

Citizen Science on the Beach

     Yesterday evening as part of my to-do list, my husband and I volunteered with NYC Audubon's horseshoe crab monitoring. We sampled and counted the Eastern portion of Plumb Beach, the same way I did the first outing I went on. Unlike my first time out, I wore shorts instead of rain pants and a winter jacket, the tide was rough- but not as bad as the first time, and horseshoe crabs were more plentiful (just not in our quadrat), AND we got to do some tagging.
     Taking part in this type of activity is what is known as "Citizen Science," a chance for any one to help gather data that is used to help in research, learn more about local ecology, to help track trends in populations, among other things.

The beach was crowded when we arrived with kite surfers and families who slowly departed as we began to take to counting and tagging.
We sampled the beach, using staggered paces and placing a quadrat down to count any crabs that fell within our sampling space. We recorded any previously tagged animals we came across such as this one. If you find tagged horseshoe crabs on the beach, report it! You can get data on where it was first tagged and any previous reports of it being found. Doing this is what being a citizen scientist is all about, contributing data points that help researchers know more about the crabs, where they go, if they are alive/dead, how long they live for.
This was a female, I am excited to know more about her and where she has been.
After we did our sampling, we tagged crabs. We used a standard cordless drill, except a cork on the bit allowed us to drill the proper depth into the shell, as to not cause injury or damage to the animal. This one was a male. 
Once the hole is drilled a unique tag is popped in. All data is recorded, and the diameter of the carapace is measured using calipers, this information will be logged so the animal now has its own unique database!
A female leads the way, with a male clamped to her, in regular horseshoe crab spawning fashion. The rules of tagging are you do not tag animals that are buried deep into the sand, you also do not dig animals out of the sand (they could be laying eggs!), you also cannot tag in the water. For this pair we had to wait for waves to die down and then act quickly.
The female is fashioned with a nifty tag!
Measurement is taken with the calipers. The individual is held still with a gentle (emphasis on gentile!) foot or hand to help it not move away while you are working.
Another female is fitted with a tag before the night is up!
     This was a great experience and I am glad my husband joined me, he said he has fun doing it. We even had some young kids out on the beach with their parents helping to tag and survey animals. I would have loved to have had such opportunities when I was a kid! It is also important to note that we do all of this work under the supervision of NYC Audubon coordinators, who help guide us in proper animal tagging and handling to ensure the proper welfare of these animals and to minimize disturbance of their egg laying ritual.
    Learn more about NYC Audubon volunteer opportunities here! I am looking forward to joining new ones in the coming seasons!