Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch – Pensacola Bay – Spring 2024 Report

The horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) is one of those creatures that was once more abundant in the Pensacola Bay system half a century ago, declined, and is now trying to make a resurgence.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, along with Florida Sea Grant, has a citizen science program called The Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch.  The objective of the project is to assess the status of this animal within our state.  It is a species of concern in other parts of its range – which includes the east and Gulf coast of the United States.  The methods of tagging and monitoring require volunteers to visit beaches while large numbers of horseshoe crabs are nesting.


This large female was carrying a smaller male on a beach in Big Lagoon within the national seashore.
Photo: Bob Pitts



The issue within Pensacola Bay is that large nesting events have not been identified.  Thus, the objective of the project in this area is to do that.  Since 2020 Florida Sea Grant has trained 63 volunteers to survey one of nine pre-selected transects that average 0.5 miles.  Surveys were conducted during the spring high tides of both the spring and fall of each year.


In the spring of 2024 Sea Grant held three training courses where 12 local citizens were trained on how to conduct a survey and complete a field data sheet.  Eight of the 12 (67%) participated in at least one survey.  47 surveys were conducted during the spring.  31 of those (66%) were conducted in the Pensacola Beach area.  10 (21%) were conducted in the Big Lagoon area.  Six (13%) were conducted at Sanders Beach near downtown Pensacola.  The volunteers encountered horseshoe crab sign on 6 of the 47 surveys (13%).  Four of the six encounters were molts.  The other two were dead horseshoe crabs.  No live horseshoe crabs were found, and no nesting beaches were identified.


Word of the project has been spreading since we began and many within the community are aware we are looking.  Many of these citizens contacted Sea Grant to report sightings they encountered. During the spring of 2024 29 such contacts were made.  These contacts covered an additional eight locations within the bay area.  22 of the contacts (76%) reported finding molts.  These molts were found at Gulf Breeze, Park East, Park West, Little Sabine, and Big Sabine – all on Pensacola Beach.  Three contacts (10%) reported living single individuals.  These were found in East Bay, and what the locals call “Baby Beach” on Pensacola Beach.  Two contacts (7%) were a male/female pair.  One of these was seen at “Baby Beach” and the other was spotted by SCUBA divers at the jetties of Ft. Pickens on the west end of Pensacola Beach.  Two other contacts (7%) were of dead individuals.  Both of these were found on Pensacola Beach.


57 of the total 69 reports this spring (83%) came from Pensacola Beach.  Survey coverage near Big Lagoon was good, but encounters did not occur very often.  Over the four years of the project sightings and encounters have occurred at several locations around the bay area – but Pensacola Beach has reported the most.


The team will conduct surveys this fall with a focus on Pensacola Beach.  Horseshoe crabs are living in the bay area, but the numbers seem to be low and nesting beaches have not been identified.


If you have questions concerning horseshoe crabs in the Pensacola Bay area, contact Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent Rick O’Connor at the Escambia County Extension office.  (850-475-5230) roc1@ufl.edu.


Posted: May 29, 2024

Category: Coasts & Marine, Natural Resources
Tags: Florida Sea Grant, Horseshoe Crabs, Pensacola Bay

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