Evaluation of a small beach nourishment project to enhance habitat suitability for horseshoe crabs

Nancy L. Jackson, David R. Smith, Ronnachai Tiyarattanachai, Karl F. Nordstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


This field study evaluates the effect of nourishing an estuarine beach with gravel to enhance spawning rates by horseshoe crabs. A total of 564 m3 of coarse sand and gravel were emplaced in two 90 m-long treatment segments at Bowers Beach, Delaware, USA from 9 to 11 April 2002. Field data were gathered between 6 April and 24 May 2002 to characterize the two fill segments and the un-nourished segments between them as well as two control segments at the adjacent Ted Harvey Beach. Sediment samples were taken from the foreshore surface and at depth before and after the nourishment. Bay water levels, wave heights, and beach ground water characteristics were monitored over a 12-hour tidal cycle at one of the nourished (15 May 2002) and the unnourished segment (16 May 2002) at Bowers Beach and at one of the control segments at Ted Harvey Beach (21 May 2002) using piezometers and pressure transducers inserted in wells. The beaches were cored to estimate the density of horseshoe crab eggs deposited during the spawning season. Horseshoe crab eggs were buried in pouches at 0.15 to 0.20 m depth for 30 to 40 days to evaluate their survival in developing into embryo or larval stage. Bulk sediment samples were taken to evaluate moisture characteristics near locations where egg pouches were buried. Density of spawning females at Bowers Beach was 1.04 m- 2 in 2001 and 1.20 m- 2 in 2002. These rates are lower than at Ted Harvey Beach but reveal an increase in spawning while Ted Harvey Beach underwent a considerable decrease (2.63 m- 2 to 1.35 m- 2). Sediments low on the foreshore remained nearly saturated throughout the tidal cycle at both beaches. The average hydraulic conductivity on the upper foreshore at the non-treatment section at Bowers Beach (0.19 cm s- 1) was less than at Ted Harvey Beach (0.27 cm s- 1), and the finer, better sorted sediments at depth at Bowers Beach resulted in a higher porosity, creating greater moisture retention potential. Egg development was greatest at mid foreshore at all sites. Eggs at the lower foreshore elevation remained viable, but did not develop to the embryo stage. Between-beach differences were limited to high elevations where higher mortality occurred at Ted Harvey Beach due to desiccation. Adding small amounts of gravel to a sand beach may change the appearance of the surface but may not appreciably increase mean grain size and sorting at depth or the hydraulic conductivity over the spawning season. The pebble fraction may be important for site selection, but finer sizes may be more important for egg survival because of moisture retention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)172-185
Number of pages14
Issue number1-2 SPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - Sep 1 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


  • Delaware Bay
  • Egg survival
  • Estuarine beach
  • Horseshoe crabs
  • Interstitial moisture
  • Sediment texture


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