Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch Summary 2017

Volunteers work together to tag horseshoe crabsDedicated volunteers drive the program

Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch (FHCW) is a citizen science program that is quickly becoming established along Florida’s coast. The fall 2017 sampling season (Sept-Oct 2017) was the 4th round of horseshoe crab nesting surveys and tagging by citizen scientists on Cedar Key beaches. The fall 2017 season was the 2nd round for Hagen’s Cove and Shired Island beaches. The FHCW coordinator team welcomed Rosalyn Kilcollins into their ranks and she led the very first round of sampling for two beaches in Bald Point State Park. The rapid growth of the program is exciting! New programs will start all over the state in 2018 as more and more volunteer coordinators join the team.

FHCW logo

One of the youngest volunteers in the program collects a crab to tagThe number of volunteers is growing, too, up from 20 active volunteers in Fall 2016 to over 106 active citizen volunteers in 2017. This wonderful, dedicated volunteer corps donated over 1,378 total hours of time and traveled a total of 29,208 miles to complete the surveys in 2017! All of the volunteers in the program agreed to some degree that they considered themselves stewards of horseshoe crabs – and the numbers don’t lie! in 2017 alone, our citizen scientists went above and beyond their basic data collection duties. Our volunteers educated at least 1,961 people about horseshoe crabs. Most of these educational opportunities arise when volunteers are walking the beach on their surveys and are approached by curious beachgoers. A few volunteers even wrote articles for their local newspapers. Florida Master Naturalist and Green Guide Chester Butler wrote this piece (pdf) for the Forgotten Coast Line (see also Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch in the News)

Citizen scientists collect high quality data

In 2017, volunteers completed a total of 178 surveys at 11 different sites across 4 counties in the Nature Coast. Simultaneous sampling across such a large geographic area would be impossible without the help of citizen scientists. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is dedicated to collecting data on horseshoe crab nesting, but does not have anywhere near enough staff to achieve the high level of data collection the volunteers are able to complete. A major accomplishment of FHCW in 2017 was the incorporation of data collected by volunteers into federal stock assessment models. These models are used to make decisions about the number of horseshoe crabs that can be safely removed by the fishery each year. This is a major nod to the quality data collected by our hardworking volunteers!

How can the public help?

If you see a tagged horseshoe crab, alive or dead, you can really help our data collection efforts by reporting the tagged animal. To report a tag, follow the instructions below. You can download the picture to your phone so you will always have the information.

How to report a tagged horseshoe crab

2017 Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch Data Summary

Surveys: In the spring, volunteers observed a total of 2,333 horseshoe crabs on 9 nesting beaches. As in previous sampling seasons, there were more males (1,559) observed than females (774) on the nesting beaches. The highest number observed in any one survey was 644 crabs at Cull Preserve in Cedar Key on 3/31/2017. Cull Preserve also had the 2nd and 3rd highest total number observed on the two days prior (3/29/2017 – 349 crabs, 3/30/2017 – 323 crabs). In the fall, volunteers observed a total of 1,561 horseshoe crabs on 9 nesting beaches. Again, there were more males (1,011) observed than females (550) on the nesting beaches. The highest number observed in a fall survey was 378 crabs at Hagen’s Cove in Steinhatchee on 10/6/2017. Cull Preserve in Cedar Key had the 2nd highest total number observed on 9/21/2017 – 183 crabs).

Tagging and resighting: In the spring, volunteers collected, tagged, and released 373 crabs and 25 tagged individuals were seen again (resighted). In the fall, volunteers collected, tagged, and released 473 crabs. Out of these, 36 tagged individuals were seen again (resighted). The overall tag resighting rate for 2017 was 7.2%, slightly lower than in 2016, where approximately 11% of tagged crabs were resighted. However, we still got excellent data from the tagging effort!

Click here to view the tag resighting info for 2017

Tag resighting data is the most important type of collected by the citizen scientists. Tag resighting data is used to estimate population sizes but also can tell biologist important information about horseshoe crab nesting behavior. For example, tagging data from 2016 suggested that horseshoe crabs move a good deal more among nesting beaches than previously thought. In 2017, the data more support to the 2016 data: 30 crabs were resighted on a different beach than the one where they were tagged and 30 were resighted on the same beach. More data is needed to continue assessing this aspect of horseshoe crab behavior and help determine if the behavior differs between males and females.

This year, we had a few instances of crabs moving long distances. In the spring, two female crabs that were tagged at Shired Island and resighted just two days later at Cull Preserve in Cedar Key!! In the fall, one crab tagged at Shired Island was resighted at Sandspit in Cedar Key. In fall 2017, volunteers resighted 8 crabs that were tagged in spring 2017 season and 1 crab that was tagged in the fall of 2015! Information of this kind is extremely valuable for helping researchers understand population connectivity across nesting areas and over time – and it was all collected thanks to citizen scientists!

Stay tuned for more!

Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch will continue in Spring 2018, and may be coming to a beach near you! Visit https://ncbs.ifas.ufl.edu/extension/florida-horseshoe-crab-watch/ or email savanna.barry @ ufl.edu or tiffany.black @ myFWC.com for more information about how to get involved in Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch.

A tagged horseshoe crab ready for release.


Posted: December 20, 2017

Category: Coasts & Marine, Natural Resources
Tags: Citizen Science, Florida Sea Grant, FWC, Horseshoe Crabs, InsideNatureCoast, NCBS Volunteers

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