Journal Entries from Sara Grady, Who is Studying Horseshoe Crabs
on Cape Cod
Sara Grady is pursuing her doctorate at the Boston University Marine Program in Woods Hole, MA. For the past two years, she has studied horseshoe crabs on Cape Cod. This summer, Sara will be conducting surveys of two estuaries in the Cape Cod region — Barnstable Harbor and Stage Harbor — as well as a fecundity study in Pleasant Bay and the aforementioned estuaries. She will try to update this journal every week.
BY SARA GRADY
My self-appointed mission this week was scouting out field sites in Stage Harbor. Armed with the latitude and longitude of each of my sites and a GPS, I was essentially just checking out where the randomly chosen points were actually located and if they were accessible from shore. Our boat was still broken, so we had to resort to driving around the perimeters of the estuaries. Stage Harbor is relatively well-enervated with roads though, so getting close to the sites wasn’t going to be terribly difficult. It was merely a matter of matching a map marked with dots indicating where I should go with a street atlas, and deciding if it was truly feasible to get to the dot from shore. I also had to keep in mind that the things I am willing to do, like swim across boat channels and snorkel for the crabs instead of wade, might not work for my peers.
I usually do my research with other people because it’s easier with an extra pair of hands, and it’s also safer. I went out alone on my scouting mission because it really only takes one person, and I appreciate the freedom of going out alone without having anyone depending on me for guidance or possibly disagreeing with my methods. It happened to be one of the few gloriously sunny, warm days we’ve had lately — what the old weatherman on the Cape Cod radio station called “real Cape Cod weathah.” The weather brought everyone out of hiding, and Chatham was bustling.
The social structure here changes with the season, as people return to their summer homes, and the expensive inns along the coast populate with golfers and beach-seekers. Marine biologists tend to fall in with the local clammers in terms of caste, it seems, although we’re occasionally taken for visitors on a very determined-looking beach walk. While wading around, several people asked if I was looking for quahogs or softshells. One fellow asked if I was trying to find my mooring. He confided that his had been blown away in a storm, and he had been out in the bay for hours looking for the remains. I said that I was in fact looking for invisible points, delineated by the crosshairs of multiple satellites confirming my true location on the surface of the earth.
Sites near the million-dollar-home areas of Chatham were ruled out, and marked as “boat access only.” This was because of all the signs that read “No Trespassing,” “Private Property,” and “No Turning” at the end of their driveways. Additionally, those houses with the best views are often not at sea level, which doesn’t help me much. I accepted those that seemed to involve marinas and boatyards, although I anticipated minor hassles when we actually got in the water with our equipment. Those sites in calm flat portions of the bay were accepted as well, and I lingered slightly looking at the benthic goings-on. That’s the advantage of being alone, I suppose. I hate being hurried.
After all the sites had been visited, I was starting to really feel like it was summer, what with all the people out in the streets. I tend to feel a mix of benevolence, stemming from all of us sharing the sunlight, and mild jealousy, because I wish I was on vacation instead of working. Then I remember that I get to work outside and they probably don’t. As a sort of dedication to the arrival of summer, I stopped on Main Street in Chatham, shook the sand off of my sandals, joined the throngs of people basted in sunscreen and exposing their pale shins for the first time this year, and had a cone of homemade strawberry ice cream.
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