Horeshoe crab breeding on the Atlantic Coast, Moore's Beach, Delaware Bay, New Jersey (Steve Greer)

Horeshoe crabs breeding on the Atlantic Coast, Delaware Bay, New Jersey

For many years I’ve been attempting to create an image of the horseshoe crabs ancient migration, a mating ritual that predates dinosaurs.  Closely related to the spider family, these crabs crawl out of the frigid waters of the Delaware Bay and onto New Jersey beaches once a year to lay their eggs.  This event only happens at a very specific location on the planet, at a very specific time.  Anticipating the correct moon cycle, high tides, time of sunrise, and cooperative weather, are important elements in making this photo-op possible.  The challenges of combining intriguing light, movement, and a sense of rhythm and pattern have led to many failed attempts in the past.

Many shorebirds depend on the horseshoe crab eggs to refuel for their own migratory journey, in particular the Red Knot, which time their 12,000 mile one way journey in accord with the horseshoe crabs mating.   This endangered species fly from the southern tip of South America to the high Arctic, stopping only along the Delaware Bay to gorge themselves on the tiny pinhead sized eggs laid by the crabs.  This circumnavigation of the globe is only possible by the food source provided by the billions of eggs laid by the horseshoe crabs.

Each year, millions of crabs are harvested and used as fertilizer, or as bait for the commercial conch fishing trade. Critically linked, the Red Knot population has recently crashed from decades of over harvesting the horseshoe crabs.  The number of crabs breeding in New Jersey has plummeted by 90 percent since 1990.   It is only thanks to a few visionary conservationists that have dedicated their careers and lives in protecting this species, that certain beaches are now protected.  And maybe with time, the crab population can rebound (it takes 9 years for a horseshoe crab to reach maturity), so that future generations can enjoy such an authentic natural history experience.

My hope is to bring attention to the horseshoe crab’s fate, and the dependent species that will parish, if the crabs become extinct.  These crabs do not have the warm and fuzzy reaction that other endangered species enjoy, and I felt it important to create a beauty-image of an equally important animal in peril. Virtually unchanged for eons, and struggling to survive under the shadow of ever encroaching development and pillaging of our natural resources,  it is impressive that this prehistoric creature still manages to survive.

It’s quite a sensation to experience an ancient phenomenon that predates dinosaurs, and each year, it is a joy to witness such an event first hand.  During the photo session, the crabs are in constant motion, climbing over each other, jockeying for position, bumping into my tripod and tickling my toes as they crawl over my feet.  I am blessed.  Shortly after making this photo, the sun makes its predictable appearance on the horizon and as the tide recedes, the crabs disappear back into the water, not to be seen for another year.

The photo was made using a Canon EOS 5D and 17mm lens

For more photos of the horseshoe crabs visit my website

For more information on the horseshoe crabs visit The Sea Around You