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The Great Eggcase Hunt takes on New York!

By Ali Hood, Cat Gordon, 2nd September 2013

Ten years on and the Great Eggcase Hunt (GEH) now represents one of the UK’s most popular marine volunteer recording programmes. This project has developed considerably since the early days, in terms of both the high quality resources produced and the number of records received, with over 35,000 records submitted from more than 1000 recorders. The GEH was recently named one of the ’10 best hands-on wildlife projects’ by Coast Magazine – largely due to the fact that the project is easily accessible, incredibly easy to get involved with, requires little equipment, has a simple protocol, contributes to conservation and obviously, is fun!

The Shark Trust is keen to take the Great Eggcase Hunt beyond the UK, and subsequently expand our ‘international’ eggcase knowledge. This year, the Shark Trust teamed up with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) to collaboratively launch the GEH in the USA, with involvement from New York Aquarium and New York Seascapes Project. The project received an exceptional response and the Trust is excited to continue promoting it in the States.

Ali Hood and Cat Gordon visited New York and teamed up with Merry Camhi and her New York Seascapes team (Gwen & Jake) from WCS and Sonja Fordham from Shark Advocates International to discuss how the project could be given the best possible platform to launch in the States. Ali and Cat contributed to a number of activities at the NY Aquarium, including a hands-on presentation to children attending summer camp, a formal presentation to WCS/Aquarium staff (which was also web-linked to their offices globally) and a meeting with the education team to discuss how they could incorporate the project into their current work as they recover from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

The team visited Fulton Street Fish Market in order to find out what shark, skate and ray species had been landed and were available for sale – discovering Smooth Dogfish, Spiny Dogfish and skate wings, as well as the odd surprise such as Blacktip Reef Sharks, Cownose Rays and even a part of a Tiger Shark carcass. Later that afternoon, the elasmobranch collections in the ichthyology department at the American Natural History Museum (ANMH) were examined and the egglaying species were identified – the available shark and skate eggcase specimens were measured and photographed for reference.

Of course the trip wouldn’t have been complete without some eggcase hunting! The discovery that many beaches are ‘town beaches’ (and therefore off-limits to those people not residing locally) was somewhat restrictive – however a suitable beach was soon located and the first eggcases were quickly found! During a walk along Smith Point County Park beach on Fire Island, an incredible 457 eggcases were discovered – the majority were Little Skate, with just three Winter Skate eggcases found. The Shark Trust and WCS staff visited the ‘Fire Island Wilderness Visitor Centre’ and spoke with the National Park Service Rangers on duty about the GEH and its expansion to the Northwest Atlantic coast. One Park Ranger, Sonia, was particularly excited about the project and keen to be involved as it develops, this was an incredibly positive boost to the project and was exactly the platform that was needed to take it further. Fire Island stretches 32 miles along Long Island’s south shore, forming a barrier between Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, a huge number of people visit the beaches and wilderness centres with thousands of school children engaging in their education programme. It is these people that the Trust would be seeking to engage in the project, so having enthusiastic rangers at the visitor centre is essential. Both the Shark Trust and WCS are extremely excited to take the Great Eggcase Hunt forward and continue to develop accompanying project resources.

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