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Assistance through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program

Thompson Beach readied for horseshoe crabs

ready for migrationMaurice River Township in Cumberland County recently restored and reestablished important foraging habitat for migratory shorebirds on approximately 5,000 linear feet of Thompson’s Beach. The Natural Resources Conservation Service was able to help fund this effort through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program.

Delaware Bay is the first stopover site for many migratory shorebirds on their 9,000 mile journey from the coast of South America to nesting grounds in the Arctic. Over one million shorebirds stop to feed here, many doubling their body weight in just a few weeks by feeding on horseshoe crab eggs and marine invertebrates. The food that the birds consume in Delaware Bay fuels the remainder of their northbound migration and sustains them through egg-laying. Among these birds are the Red Knot. It has been estimated that 80% of the western hemisphere’s population of Red Knots stop in Delaware Bay to feed. In a study in the 1990’s, the NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife designated Thompson’s Beach as a critical area for migratory shorebirds.

Since the early part of the 20th century, Thompson’s Beach, like many small coastal communities along the shorelines of Delaware Bay, consisted of small houses, trailers, jetties, and piers. Concrete rubble was placed on the beach in an effort to maintain the waterfront and protect the homes. This rubble drastically reduced the amount of beach available for horseshoe crab laying and shorebird foraging. In 1998, Maurice River Township purchased the remaining homes at the beach and removed all structures. All that remained was concrete rubble, pilings, and bulk heading.

Following the design crafted by the NJ DEP Division of Coastal Engineering, the rubble was removed in May during the final phase of the project. Front-end loaders, excavators, and dump trucks hauled off the remaining rubble, and suitable materials were crushed and used to transform an existing lane into a walking trail to the beach.

The beach will be closed during May and June to reduce human disturbance, but an observation platform provides an excellent viewing site for the shorebird migration from afar. The area will be open to the public at all other times of the year.