Identifying Sea Life, Student Works for Conservation in NJ

The male pipefish, a true egalitarian, carries eggs deposited by the female. And like its relative, the seahorse, male pipefish are equipped to shoulder most of the parenting tasks. Once the offspring are born, they hide from predators by attaching to sea grass and swaying with the grasses as the water rocks them back and orth. Such is the spectacle of nature. And Lauren McGrath 2012 spent her summer watching it unfold in the low tidal waters of Corson’s Inlet, New Jersey.
McGrath waded into the ocean, net in hand, to amass as much data as possible during her Summer research. The results of her research identifying the plant and animal life in Corson’s Inlet State Park will be added to the state’s official record of ocean life. “With the help of Dr. Goddard-Doms, I am trying to survey the organisms at the park to compile a list that would be published on the State Park’s website. Then visitors would be able to identify plants and animals that they find at Corson’s Inlet,” says McGrath, a biology and ENV major from Benton, PA.

“Some of the coolest organisms that we found included pipefish, horseshoe crabs, and diamond back terrapin,” she says. “The diamond back terrapin is on the state’s lists of special concern because it is endangered by habitat loss, traffic and other threats. I was lucky enough to see almost a dozen coming up onto the dunes to lay their eggs. There were also two types of hermit crabs (Pagurus longicarpus and Pagurus pollicaris), but unlike their cousins that are commonly seen in pet stores, these cannot live out of water for more than an hour.”

McGrath also observed some of the birds that are frequent visitors to the bay including the laughing gull, American crow and common tern, as well as, the boat tailed grackle, snowy egret, whimbrel, oyster catcher and brant.

“There were many different types of crustaceans including the lady (or calico) crab, white fingered mud crab, horseshoe crab and blue crab,” says McGrath. She also spied the green crab in the inlet, but McGrath says it is an invasive species and has been disturbing the local food chain.

“Through seining for fish, we have found summer flounder, Cypreinnadon veragotis and Fungalis heteroclitus (both are small, minnow like fish). Some of the plants included Virginia creeper, sea lavender, seaside goldenrod, bayberry, juniper and cedar,” she says. Though the list will continue to grow, it represents a variety of ocean plant and animal life. “I am still compiling and identifying!”

– KC