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Coastal Conservation Research Program
Description of Research Projects

The CCRP scientists collaborate on conservation and research activities in a number of locations in southern New Jersey. Research activities for summer 2012 may include:
  1. Terrapin Research and Conservation Project
  2. Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey
  3. Beach Nesting Bird Project
  4. Bald Eagle Predation Study
  5. Crooked Creek Biodiversity Study
  6. Fiddler Crab Diversity and Abundance Study

1) Terrapin Research and Conservation Project

The Terrapin Conservation Project was established at The Wetlands Institute in 1989. The project assesses the impact of human activities on diamondback terrapins and ways to reduce those impacts. During terrapin nesting season (late May July), student researchers monitor local salt marsh roads for female terrapin mortalities. (Only female terrapins are found on land because they are looking for a place to lay their eggs.) Injured terrapins are brought back to the lab for first aid. Dead female terrapins struck by motor vehicles are also taken back to the lab so that any potentially viable eggs can be retrieved from the female's carcass in a procedure called an "eggectomy." These eggs are placed in containers and incubated at the Wetlands Institute and at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. After seven to eight weeks, tiny newborn hatchlings emerge from these "orphan" eggs. These hatchling terrapins are reared in our "turtle farm" for ten months. The resulting "head-started" terrapins are microchipped and released back into the wild. We are able to evaluate the impacts of our head-starting program on the local terrapin population. We also determine the distribution, movements, and abundance of terrapins using mark, release, recapture and telemetry. In addition, our terrapin conservation activities include installing terrapin barrier fences, which reduce the number of female terrapins entering the road, and installing exclosure cages over terrapin nest sites, which protects buried eggs from predators. Finally, we conduct basic and applied studies on terrapin life history, reproduction, and ecology. For more details about the program, please see our website at

2) Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey

Horseshoe crabs are often described as "living fossils" and fill important niches both in their native environments and in human pharmacology. Owing to localized horseshoe crab population declines and increased fishing pressure on the crabs for bait, annual Horseshoe Crab Spawning Surveys were initiated in 1990. Surveys take place annually on Delaware Bay beaches during new and full moons in May and June. Volunteers from the Wetlands Institute are responsible for two local beaches along the Cape May Peninsula. Note: all Student Researchers will participate in this project.

3) Beach Nesting Bird Project

Stone Harbor Point is one of the most active beach nesting bird sites in the state of New Jersey. Several species of shore birds (including the federally endangered piping plover and state endangered least tern and black skimmer) use the Point as their nesting ground for the summer. Human disturbance, predation, and flooding are the most serious causes for concern over declining beach nesting bird populations. Student researchers and volunteers will assist biologists from The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey in their monitoring of Stone Harbor Point for beach nesting bird activity. We will also participate in ancillary conservation activities regarding local beach nesting bird populations, such as public outreach, courtesy fence installation, and setting up predator exclosure cages over nest sites.

4) Bald Eagle Predation Study

In 2010 The Wetlands Institute, in collaboration with The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, initiated a study of skeletal remains collected from bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) nests scattered throughout New Jersey. Preliminary analysis of this material has provided insight into the food preferences and ecological impact of the rebounding bald eagle population in New Jersey. We plan to continue this project in 2012.

5) Crooked Creek Biodiversity Study

The physical parameters of an ecosystem greatly influence the flora and fauna able to survive in that particular place. The transition between coastal salt marshes and freshwater wetlands are particularly influenced by salinity, which is driven by tidal flux. This study will explore the effects of the salinity gradient on the ecology of Crooked Creek, near the Wetlands Institute. Activities might include studying the distribution of snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentine), diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin), benthic-dwelling macroinvertebrates, and/or vegetation along the salinity gradient.

6) Fiddler Crab Diversity and Abundance Study

Fiddler crabs are important to the salt marsh ecosystem in a variety of ways, not the least of which is as one of the favorite prey items of the diamondback terrapin. Construction and maintenance of numerous burrows by fiddler crabs is considered an important source of "bioturbation" of the marsh substrate, and these abundant arthropods are also major grazers on salt marsh detritus. Although three species of fiddler crabs are thought to be common in our marshes (Uca pugnax, the mud fiddler; Uca pugilator, the sand fiddler; and Uca minax, the brackish-water fiddler), we do not know which species are actually present near The Wetlands Institute, and in what abundance each is present. The specific questions to be addressed include: (1) what fiddler crab species are present and how is each distributed across the gradients of salinity, elevation, and substrate that characterize salt marshes? (2) which of the three available methods for population estimates (burrow counts, active crab observation, excavation) is most appropriate and reliable for our area? (3) what are the current population(s) of the species present in our marshes? and (4) are fiddler crab populations growing, declining, or stable?


Description of Research Projects | Staff & Associates | Presentations and Publications | Partners & Sponsors |
Student Research Activities & Info | Application & Contact Info