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Watershed Habitats – Sand Beaches



Diamondback Terrapin

Each year, in mid-May, just as people are heading for the beaches, unfortunately, so are the female terrapins.  

Tdiamondback terrapin nesting 9 - dssphe terrapin lives in the Delaware Inland Bays, but the females lay their eggs in the soft sands of the beach dunes, and mid-May to late July is their nesting season.  Some are killed crossing Coastal Highway. 

Unfortunately, nearly all the terrapins that are killed are adult females.  Because they can live for 25-30 years and can continue to reproduce for two decades, every female lost is also a loss of all her potential offspring. 

One solution is more sandy beach habitat on the Bays.  But, these are becoming rarer and rarer as shorelines are hardened with rip rap and stone.

Click here for tips on what you can do to help the terrapins on their trip to the beach.


The Horseshoe CrabHorseshoe Crab Survey on Sandy Beach

Every year, around the first full moon in May and June, the horseshoe crab comes onto the sandy beaches of the bays to spawn.  Millions of green eggs are laid along the shore, important not only for the survival of the horseshoe crab, but critical to the survival of several species of shorebirds.

These birds, for millennia, have arrived on these shores on their 6,000 mile journey from the southern tip of South America to the Arctic just in time to feed on the horseshoe crab eggs.  They spend a couple of weeks here feeding to regain their energy and body weight before resuming their migration north.

Find out more about this fascinating creature with this fantastic fact sheet from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service!


A high stress environment only for the few well adapted…

The more stressors there are… like extreme heat and cold, low nutrient soils, wind and salt…the less diversity of species are found.  Those that live on the sand beaches must adapt to the dry winds, extreme heat and cold and saltwater driven in by the wind and storms.  Some of the adaptations that plants have developed are thick leathery leaves that store water, or thin grassy leaves that have less evaporative surface.


Who lives there?Seaside goldenrod with March Flies - DHB

Beach fleas, ghost crabs, mole crabs—all crustaceans with hard outer shells that protect them from drying out and appendanges adapted for digging in the sand— successfully live in this environment.  The beaches are also host to terrestrial animals in search of food including foxes, muskrats and raccoons.


Flora and Fauna

The upper beaches are bright with Seaside Goldenrod in late summer and early fall, and American Beach Grass, whose roots, many feet long help anchor the beach in storms.


What can you do?

  1. Help with the annual Horseshoe Crab Count.
  2. Become a TERP volunteer at the Center for the Inland Bays.
  3. If you live on the Bays, leave a buffer of natural vegetation along the shoreline.
  4. Pick up trash you see along the beach.  Especially fishing line, plastic bags and other litter dangerous to birds and sea life.