The name of the coastal town Slaughter Beach doesn’t exactly evoke images of a nice safe habitat for wildlife. Luckily for horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds, the town of 218 residents doesn’t live up to its name.

The name of the coastal town Slaughter Beach doesn’t exactly evoke images of a nice safe habitat for wildlife. Luckily for horseshoe crabs and migratory shorebirds, the town of 218 residents doesn’t live up to its name.
In fact, Slaughter Beach, nestled about 10 miles east of Milford on the Delaware Bay, is one of the highest spawning areas in the world when it comes to horseshoe crabs. And those horseshoe crabs provide some fine dining for migratory shorebirds that travel along the North Atlantic Flyway, such as the Red Knot, who stop along the bay every spring to feast on the eggs of the crabs.
It’s this rich ecosystem that Slaughter Beach provides that has helped it recently earn the distinction as a NWF Community Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
Slaughter Beach became the 83rd community in the country and the third in Delaware to receive the honor in April. It joined Newark and Townsend as NWF Community Wildlife Habitats in the state.
Bill McSpadden, a longtime resident of Slaughter Beach, helped lead the push to get the town certified. He said it was just a natural fit.
“The NWF Community Wildlife Habitat project was a natural extension of what residents were already doing in Slaughter Beach,” McSpadden said. “Residents realize it’s not about us, it’s about where we live.”
Normally, the certification of a town becoming a NWF Community Wildlife Habitat takes a couple of years or more. However, Slaughter Beach received the distinction in just a couple months.
That, McSpadden said, is because of all of the people in town who care passionately about protecting the environment and wildlife.
“Surrounded by wildlife refuges to the west and the bay to the east, the area supports an abundance of wildlife which needs to be preserved and protected,” McSpadden said. “We don’t share our space with them; they share their space with us.
“Because of this, we need to be good stewards and help where and how we can, from flipping horseshoe crabs, to sustainable gardening practices including planting native plants to attract and benefit wildlife.”
To become a NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat, a certain number of homes, schools and common areas must become certified by providing the four basic elements that all wildlife need: food, water, cover and places to raise young. The program also requires sustainable gardening practices.
In addition, communities can earn points through a flexible checklist that includes things such as educating citizens at community events and other activities.
McSpadden joked that he used to hate the horseshoe crabs that sometimes kept him from swimming in the Delaware Bay as a child.
However, his grandfather got the point across to him that horseshoe crabs were essential to the shore’s ecosystem.
“They were kind of a pain when I was trying to swim in the bay many years ago because we couldn’t get in the water because they were spawning,” McSpadden said. “But as I got older I got to learn about the importance of them. Plus, it didn’t hurt having my 6-foot-4 grandfather telling me about their importance.”
Slaughter Beach officially became a horseshoe crab sanctuary in 2005. McSpadden said he has noticed a difference in how the community treats the environment in recent years.
“When I used to walk the beach, I’d see a horseshoe crab flipped over and a footprint next to it and that told me that person kept on walking past the horseshoe crab,” McSpadden said. “After we became a horseshoe crab sanctuary, now when I walk, I see a footprint and I see a trail of a horseshoe crab that was flipped and had gone back into the water.”
At a time when many communities are faced with the problems of losing habitat to development and sprawl, NWF said Slaughter Beach stands out as a model for other communities to emulate.
“Through the Community Wildlife Habitat program, the town and residents are providing high quality wildlife habitat right where people live, work, play, learn and worship,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.
“Slaughter Beach has long been known for the horseshoe crabs that spawn on its beaches and the amazing spring and fall migration of shorebirds. The town is now joining an elite group of cities and towns certified by the National Wildlife Federation for making a difference for wildlife throughout the community.”
O’Mara was on hand Saturday as Slaughter Beach officially celebrated its NWF certification by unveiling a new interpretive sign/kiosk at the town’s pavilion behind the fire station. Funds for the sign came from the Bermuda Islander oil spill settlement and a grant the town received from Kent County.