SUPERHEROES OF THE SEA
B.J. Hall-Scharf, UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County, Brooksville, Florida, and B. Heres, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, St. Petersburg, Florida.
Situation: Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) are ancient superheroes still walking our beaches today. Besides being a popular prey item for many fish, birds, and sea turtles, horseshoe crab’s unique blue blood is used by pharmaceutical companies to ensure intravenous drugs are free of harmful bacteria. Limulus Amebocyte Lysate, a substance found in the blood, clumps when bacterial toxins are present allowing for sterility of medical equipment and injectable drugs to be tested. It is because of this that horseshoe crabs in many states along the U.S. Atlantic Coast are collected for their blood. Unfortunately, little is known about horseshoe crab populations in Florida. Historically, they were found along Florida’s extensive shoreline, but life history information is lacking. Comprehensive surveys across all of Florida’s coastal habitats by paid faculty from academic or government institutions are financially and logistically impossible. Response: To address data gaps and better inform fisheries management, the Florida Horseshoe Crab Watch (FHCW) program was created. This citizen science-based program is a collaboration among Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, The University of Florida, and Florida Sea Grant. The FHCW program volunteers are trained to count, measure, weigh, and tag horseshoe crabs. Results: To date, Hernando’s 32 volunteers have dedicated 202 hours ($4,859 value) towards the program’s success. Over 650 horseshoe crabs have been identified during the beach surveys, 214 crabs tagged, and 9 crabs re-sighted by the public. These volunteer-collected data are contributed to a United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s mark-recapture program along the Atlantic coast and used for state stock assessments. Conclusion: Intricacies of this program are described, with special emphasis on Hernando County’s training regimen. This case study can be used to help inform those interested in using effective citizen science programs to answer questions where volunteer involvement may supersede the limitations of available funding.