Delaware Bayshore: residents say they care

A recent survey of residents who live within 15 miles of the Delaware Bayshore -- the ribbon of marshes and beaches along both side of Delaware Bay -- holds good news for those who want to bring more attention to this special landscape and its creatures.

More than 80 percent of those surveyed said they "strongly agree" with the statement that they care about the environment, and pretty much as many -- 79 percent -- said they believe migratory shorebirds are important to the environmental quality of the region.

Those shorebirds come through every May, at precisely the same time horseshoe crabs are coming ashore to lay their fat-rich eggs. The birds descend on this banquet to refuel before heading to their nesting grounds to the north.

Chief among them, because its population has declined so precipitously, is the red knot. Its population has declined about 80 percent from its historic highs in the early 1990s. Other shorebirds that migrate through the bayshore have declined as well.

For more than a decade, scientist have studied the red knot and have blamed its decline on an overharvest of horseshoe crabs, which are used as bait to catch conch, which is highly prized in the Asian food market.

Biologists have succeeded in getting some harvest restrictions, but the birds did not show any signs of recovery ... until this year, when the weather was good, the crabs laid and the birds ate.

So now they are trying to generate more public support for the crabs, the birds and the bayshore.

This survey was part of an initial effort to gauge public opinion.

Some of the highlights:

• 95% believe the Delaware Bay is important for the region’s ecological diversity and environmental quality.

• A majority (57%) believe the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of economic growth. (32% strongly agree and 25% somewhat). 38% want priority given to economic growth over environmental protection).

And -- good news for the Manomet Center, which commissioned the study -- a majority think conservation can help economic growth in this rural region. Specifically: 

• More than 90% believe the Delaware Bay is important to their history, economy, and for recreation.

• 69% believe shorebirds are good for the region, and not just for attracting tourists for seasonal bird watching.

• 60% believe shorebirds are important to the local economy.

Although only  about half of those surveyed felt they were knowledgeable about horseshoe crabs and red knots,  95 percent said protecting shorebirds and horseshoe crabs is important.

“The survey results speak powerfully about the values of the people who live on both the Delaware and New Jersey sides of the Bay,” said Charles Duncan, Director of the Shorebird Recovery Project at the Manomet Center, in a press release about the survey. “We found that people from all sectors: business owners, local officials, sportsmen, birdwatchers and educators, are speaking with one voice, saying ‘We care about this place, our place, and that includes the shorebirds and horseshoe crabs.’” 

Here's a story I wrote earlier this year about the Bayshore and the effort to celebrate it.