Sacred Heart University and its Project Limulus conservation program aimed at studying and preserving Limulus polyphemus – the American horseshoe crab – has received a prestigious grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. The $24,500 grant is applied to undergraduate research, public education and to community programs that involve students and volunteers in conservation efforts. This is the second consecutive year that the Disney Fund has recognized this work.
In addition, the program received $24,730 from the Long Island Sound Future’s Fund managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – a grant it also received last year.
Dr. Jennifer Mattei, associate professor of Biology and director of Sacred Heart University’s Professional Science master’s program, and fellow Associate Biology Professor Dr. Mark Beekey, lead the team of students and other devoted biologists and conservationists on this important mission to preserve the American horseshoe crab. The crab is prized by scientists and medical researchers for a derivative called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) that is found in its blood. Its unique blood cells are used to test human vaccines for bacterial contamination and in the development of anti-cancer medications. The horseshoe crab eggs and larvae also play a critical role in supporting birds and other species, ranging from Maine to Florida, and are valued by commercial fishermen who use them as bait.
A concerted effort is now under way to locate, count and tag horseshoe crabs – whose numbers have declined since the early 1990s. Project Limulus focuses its efforts on Long Island Sound. Mattei, Beekey and their associates venture out to locate, count and tag the crabs in Connecticut and New York. Often they are accompanied by Sacred Heart University students and students from others schools who use these field trips as “learning labs,” and participate in the search and tracking process. Additionally, the grant is used to fund a community outreach effort involving an alumnus of the Biology Department, Adam Rudman, an adjunct biology instructor at Sacred Heart. During the summer, he conducts field trips for school groups and volunteers with the help of undergraduate research assistants. The funds are also used for educational workshops and community seminars.
“We’re thrilled and honored to receive this funding in recognition of the important work and outreach we’re doing to help preserve these marvelous and gentle creatures,” Mattei said. “We’ve already received numerous requests from schools and nature conservation groups to include them in our programming, education and tagging efforts next spring. This Disney Fund helps scientists and communities all over the world study animals and their habitats, and they only work with nonprofit organizations involved in community conservation, education, science and environmental policies. We’re thankful they share our enthusiasm and commitment to this valuable effort.”
In its letter to Mattei and SHU confirming the Disney grant, the head of the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, Beth Stevens, wrote: “At Disney we are committed to protecting the planet so that kids and families can discover nature for generations to come. The work of Sacred Heart University supports this shared philosophy, and we are especially pleased to share this good news with you. We are very proud to count Sacred Heart University among our award recipients and are inspired by all you are doing to protect wildlife and wild places and engage people in conservation.