Lincoln County News | Newcastle, ME
Friday, February 5, 2016 Serving Maine and Lincoln County for over a century. Volume 141 Issue 05


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4/2/2014 2:08:00 PM
DRA Horseshoe Crab Count Needs Volunteers
Horseshoe crabs, the subject of an on-going monitoring project at the DRA, are frequent visitors to the shores of the Damariscotta River Estuary.
Horseshoe crabs, the subject of an on-going monitoring project at the DRA, are frequent visitors to the shores of the Damariscotta River Estuary.

Most do not know that today's horseshoe crabs lived before and with the dinosaurs. They are valuable, in that horseshoe crab blood is the only available option used to determine whether or not biomedical equipment, such as IV tubing, contains unsafe bacteria.

Amazingly, this species lays over 100,000 eggs in one spawning season, providing valuable food for other species, including migratory birds, and whose whereabouts in the winter remains a mystery.

Horseshoe crabs are decidedly amazing creatures. Determining whether they are in decline or not has been a concern of the Damariscotta River Association for several years.

According to David Bailey, a Newcastle resident and former DRA president, skiffs were seen in the Great Salt Bay hauling nets filled with horseshoe crabs as recently as 10 to 15 years ago. The crabs were probably being used for bait.

Another local resident and former DRA board member, Alan Pooley, became concerned and began a concerted effort to curtail the harvesting of the crabs as well as to study and learn about their presence in areas around and along the Damariscotta River.

This effort dovetailed with Ph.D. candidate, Sue Schaller, who was researching the crabs in Taunton Bay as well as elsewhere on the Maine coast. Together with concerned citizens and the state's Department of Marine Resources, a collaboration involving the counting of Great Salt Bay horseshoe crabs was born.

Although the state's DMR is no longer involved, the DRA has continued the effort. Each spring, from the end of April through mid-June, volunteers spend an hour or so during high tide counting the crabs they see along the rocky shore.

This is done on a daily basis and requires one volunteer to do the spotting and counting, while a second volunteer records the information.

The salinity and temperature of the water are measured as well. This information is vital inasmuch as the crabs cannot survive if the salinity becomes too low.

According to DRA's Education Coordinator Sarah Gladu, the count information is being recorded in a DRA database and will be used to determine population statistics over time. Such information can be vital in determining the health of the overall environment, particularly in the Great Salt Bay.

Have there been any population changes in the past few years? Anecdotal information would indicate that there has been an increase. However, it will take more years of data collection to confirm this.

To that end, the DRA has joined in partnership with the University of Maine Darling Marine Center to hire an intern, Andrew Goode, a recent graduate of Boothbay High School and a University of Maine Marine Science major. Goode will assist the DRA horseshoe crab count program and also continue to collect data throughout the summer.

DRA's goal is to find at least 15 volunteers this spring willing to donate an hour each week to the ongoing count. Gladu is conducting a training session for interested volunteers on Saturday, April 12, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the DRA headquarters on Belvedere Road. Volunteers need not be DRA members.

In answer to the mystery of where do crabs go in the winter ... it is possible that right now they are hunkered down in a channel right here in the Great Salt Bay.

If interested in participating in the horseshoe crab count project, contact the DRA. The Damariscotta River Association is a nonprofit membership supported organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the natural, cultural, and historical heritage of the Damariscotta River, its watershed, and adjacent areas for the benefit of all.

DRA has active programs in the areas of land conservation, stewardship, community education, water quality monitoring, marine conservation and cultural preservation.

Visitors are welcome at the Great Salt Bay Heritage Center in Damariscotta as well as the many other DRA properties throughout the region. For more information call 563-1393, email, or view the web page at

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