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West Meadow Beach

The Atlantic horseshoe crab. Public domain photo

From the shore, they can look like odd-shaped shadows with tails, moving in and out of the surf or approaching the shoreline.

Up close, they can have a collection of barnacles attached to their shells, particularly as they age.

Horseshoe crabs, who have been roaming the oceans for over 450 million years, have attracted the admiration of researchers and the dedication of volunteers around Long Island, who not only want to ensure they continue to survive, but also would like to know more about creatures that are more related to spiders and scorpions than to the crabs their names suggest.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is look at spawning in a more comprehensive way,” said Robert Cerrato, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. “We’re trying to figure out if there are specific things that [horseshoe crabs] are responding to” when they come up on the beach to lay their eggs.

A closeup of two horseshoe crabs. Photo courtesy Matthew Sclafani

Horseshoe crabs have had a steady decline in their population over the last 20 years overall. In the last three to five years, however, not much has changed in the Long Island area, scientists explained.

The population is “still very similar to where it was,” said Matthew Sclafani, senior resource educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and assistant adjunct faculty member at SBU.

Scalafani and Cerrato have worked together for well over a decade and are hoping to address a wide range of questions related to these unusual creatures that have nine eyes and blue blood.

Apart from the fascination of scientists and volunteers, the horseshoe crab provides a critical food source for shore birds like the Red Knot, which depends on these eggs during their migration.

At the same time, horseshoe crabs and their blue blood provide a key ingredient in tests of pharmaceuticals. When exposed to endotoxins, horseshoe crab blood forms clots.

The use of horseshoe crab blood to test drugs does not occur in New York, however, as companies don’t catch these creatures in the Empire State for this specific test.

Cerrato and Scalafani explained that numerous towns have also limited or banned the harvesting of horseshoe crabs to maintain their local populations.

Areas around West Meadow Beach in Old Field, for example, are closed to hand harvesting, as is Jamaica Bay and Gateway National Recreation Area.

Such policies “theoretically will allow for more eggs on the beach to hatch and for shore birds dependent on them” to find food, Sclafani said. Such closures, including some during the last two weeks in May and the first two weeks in June during the peak spawn were “significant steps for conservation,” Sclafani added.

An aerial photograph taken by a drone during a horseshoe crab survey at Pike’s Beach, Westhampton. Photo by Rory MacNish/Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County

Ongoing questions

By labeling and tracking horseshoe crabs, these researchers and a team of volunteers hope to understand whether crabs, which are capable of reproducing when they are between 8 and 10 years old, return to the same sites each year to lay their eggs.

Cerrato and Scalafani are hoping to get satellite tags they can attach to adults, so that when they come out of the water to spawn, researchers know their location.

The researchers submitted a proposal to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to do a pilot study with these satellite tags.

Juvenile horseshoe crabs also present unknowns, as they have a different diet and migrate at a much lower rate.

“We started to look at” crabs that are 3 to 10 years old, said Cerrato. Moriches Bay is an “important habitat” for them.

Volunteer passion

Volunteers who help count the horseshoe crabs count these creatures often until well after midnight.

Frank Chin has been wandering beaches, counting crabs for 15 years. When he was young, Chin wanted to be a forest ranger.

“I realized that forest rangers don’t make that much money, so I went to school for engineering, got a degree and worked as an engineer,” he said.

Chin found himself at a Friends of Flax Pond meeting, where Scalafani asked for help from the community.

“I foolishly raised my hand and they made me a coordinator,” joked Chin, who counts horseshoe crabs with his wife Phyllis.

Every year presents something new to Chin.

This year, he has run into people who fish late at night. Chin said the fishermen, who have permits, are cordial, but that he’s concerned they might be scaring crabs away from their usual spawning spots.

In addition to counting the crabs, Chin, who is the director of the lab in the Physics Department at SBU, also tags them. He once caught a crab seven years after he initially tagged it.

Chin, who will count crabs in the rain but not in thunderstorms, appreciates the dedication of his fellow volunteers, who not only count the crabs but will pick up garbage and bottles along the beach.

Chin plans to continue to “do it as long as I can walk down the beach.” Some day, he “hopes someone else will take over.”

Volunteers can sign up to join the effort at nyhorseshoecrab.org.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, fourth from right, and Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, sixth from right, present a $2,500 check to the Lightning Warrior Youth Triathlon Team at West Meadow Beach. Photo courtesy of Leg. Hahn’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Deputy County Executive Peter Scully and Terry Gilberti, BusPatrol America program manager, recently presented a check for $2,500 to coaches Noah Lam and Celeste Rice and the Lightning Warrior Youth Triathlon Team at West Meadow Beach.

The grant was made possible through the county’s School Bus Safety Program.

In return for the grant funds, the team will help educate residents about the program through school bus safety posters and a banner on their playing fields and messages on the team’s website and through emails.

By Patricia Paladines

West Meadow Beach is one of four locations in New York State where horseshoe crabs are protected from capture for the biomedical and bait fishing industries throughout the year. It is a beach where during full moons of May and June we can witness an annual event that has been occurring for thousands of years in this part of the world; the migration of horseshoe crabs from the depths of the Long Island Sound to mate and deposit eggs on the shore at high tide. The beach’s sand bars are literally where single males and females “hook-up.” 

Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) have roamed the seas for over 400 million years. Long Island’s north shore, having existed for just around 20,000 years, is a relatively new site for the romantic rendezvous. 

I’ve led walks for the Four Harbors Audubon Society at West Meadow Beach where we’ve counted hundreds of horseshoe crabs on the stretch of beach between the parking lot and the jetty on the southern end. On a recent solo walk, I came upon a fisherman who had reeled in a horseshoe crab. He was about to use a knife to tear the baited hook out of the horseshoe crab’s mouth. I stopped him and showed him how easy it was to remove the hook by hand. He said he had been told the crabs were dangerous and that the tail could hurt you. After informing him that was incorrect, I took the crab and placed it back in the water while letting him know these animals are protected on this beach. 

I may have come upon the scene just in time to save that horseshoe crab, but the beach was littered with the shells of other crabs that appeared to have been purposely killed. On the same walk I found a large female who had been smashed by a piercing object. A few weeks ago, a couple of friends found a horseshoe crab that appeared to have been burned. There is evidence of many overnight bonfires on the dunes, some very near the piping plover nest barricades. 

Dead horseshoe crabs were not the only bottom feeding sea creatures strewn along the beach. Sun dried sea robins and a few skates also littered the high tide line. 

It was late afternoon and the beach was filling up with fisher folks, both men and women. That meant there would be a lot of bait attracting bottom feeding animals, AKA scavengers, fish and crabs that stroll the sea floor feeding on whatever they can find. Fisherman’s bait is easy pickings, but not the safest, especially if you are not a species preferred on that fisherman’s plate. 

I spotted two fishermen who had just reeled in two sea robins. I went over to ask them what they were going to do with them. They told me they were going to throw them back, but then I noticed a live sea robin on the sand just behind them. I picked it up and threw it back in the water hoping they would do the same with the ones they had on their hooks. I continued my walk near the line of fisher people and found more live sea robins on the sand and threw them all back in the Sound. One woman told me the fish just wash up on the beach with the waves. No, that doesn’t happen. 

I came out for a walk to find peace in the natural beauty this beach offers Brookhaven residents; instead, what I found was upsetting. I talked to a few of the fishermen and learned that some are coming from Nassau County and Queens. Do these people have permits to fish on Brookhaven Town beaches? 

When granted a fishing permit, does the person receive educational material about our local sea creatures and respectful beach use etiquette? The beach is littered not only with dead animals, but also fishing-related garbage — hooks, lines, plastic bags advertising tackle. Educational material should be in various languages. I’m a native Spanish speaker so was able to speak to the Spanish and English-speaking fisher people in the language they were most comfortable with. My experience as an environmental educator on Long Island has informed me that there are speakers of many languages who enjoy catching their meals from our waters; Czech, Polish, and Chinese are some of the other languages I’m aware of. 

Education and patrolling are needed on our beaches. Additionally, West Meadow Beach should be closed to fishing during the horseshoe crab breeding season; allowing fishing during this time is counterproductive to efforts in place to protect a species whose numbers continue to decline along the Atlantic Coast. 

Patricia Paladines is an Adjunct Instructor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Co-President of Four Harbors Audubon Society.

Pictured from left, Lisa DeVerna, Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, Ted Gutmann, Jennifer Mullen and Emily Ostrander. Photo by Abigail Choi, Councilmember Kornreich's office

If you forgot a book for your beach day, it’s not a problem. The Little Free Library, hosted by Setauket’s Emma Clark Library, is back at West Meadow Beach for the summer! The structure was reinstalled on June 22.

This “Take a Book or Leave a Book” concept is one that exemplifies recycling and community and in addition, encourages lifelong reading. Beachgoers are encouraged to grab a book and/or donate one to this structure located under the pavilion at the beach. 

According to a press release, the books are all donated by the public. This little library is possible thanks in part to many generous booklovers (books are not curated or owned by Emma Clark — please don’t return your library books there). Library teen volunteers “adopt” the library each week to ensure that it is neat, undamaged, and well-stocked.

Emma Clark Library has hosted the Little Free Library at West Meadow Beach in July and August since 2016, to inspire beachgoers to read, share, and reuse. There is no need to live in Three Village to participate, as long as you are a visitor of the beach. The Town of Brookhaven and Environmental Educator Nicole Pocchiare have once again graciously given their consent for Emma Clark to host the Little Free Library at the beach.

Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich attended the re-installation and remarked, “I was thrilled to have attended the 8th annual installation of a Little Free Library at West Meadow Beach! As a firm believer of the power of reading and learning, I’m excited to see this resource available to the community again. Thank you Director Ted Gutmann, Jen Mullen, Lisa DeVerna, and Emily Ostrander from the Emma Clark Library for making this all happen.”

Little Free Libraries have become an international phenomenon since their inception in 2010, and Little Free Library was established as a nonprofit organization in 2012 in Wisconsin. According to the official Little Free Library website, there are over 150,000 registered book-sharing boxes across the United States and 120 countries worldwide. Emma Clark’s Little Free Library at West Meadow Beach is registered on www.littlefreelibrary.org and can be found on the site’s official map of all Little Free Libraries.

“Emma Clark Library is happy to promote literacy outside the walls of the building and help our neighbors discover new books. Whether it be a hot summer day or a beautiful, breezy sunset, the Little Free Library simply enhances the already beloved West Meadow Beach here in Three Village,” said the press release.

Photo by Laura Gumbos


Laura Gumbus was at West Meadow Beach on April 4 when she spied an osprey and snapped this incredible photo. She writes, ‘I heard the osprey mating call and saw an osprey sitting in a nest.  I waited patiently and watched two love birds in flight together and captured this one as it returned to its nest. It was cool to see!’

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Bob Wattecamps, Dean Hacohen and Diane Wattcamps by the Connecticut bench discovered at West Meadow Beach. Photo from Diane Wattecamps

An East Setauket couple’s walk along the beach led to a memorial bench returned to its rightful place — in Connecticut.

A bench from Connecticut was found on West Meadow Beach. Photo from Diane Wattecamps

After 50 years living in the Three Village area and countless walks along West Meadow Beach, Diane and Bob Wattecamps know the landscape like the backs of their hands.

While walking on the beach one day at the end of January, the couple embarked on an unexpected adventure. Diane Wattecamps pointed out a bench to her husband that caught her eye the day before on a windy day. It was a large bench made from teakwood lodged at the beach’s pavilion. The couple stopped to examine the piece covered with sand and seaweed. First, they found a bronze memorial plaque hanging from a screw on the bench.

“Bob just put his hand on the plaque, and it just came off in his hand,” said the wife. “He said, ‘Wow, this thing was just literally hanging on.’”

After closer inspection, the Wattecamps found another plaque in the sand and realized they belonged to a couple named Nahum and Judy Hacohen. They knew that not only did this bench not belong on their favorite beach, but it was also something special.

Diane Wattecamps said after reading the plaques, she could picture the couple sitting by the water somewhere, enjoying the view. One plaque dedicated to Nahum Hacohen read, “What a view.” Judy Hacohen’s plaque is inscribed with “I’ve said that since 1936.”

After she and her husband found the plaques, the Three Village resident said she took out her cellphone to search for the names, and she found the wife’s obituary immediately. It turned out she was an 81-year resident of Bell Island in Norwalk, Connecticut. The couple then decided to load the heavy bench into their truck.

“I have to find where it belongs,” Diane Wattecamps said to her husband.

A former TBR News Media employee for 30 years, the wife said she got home and started to read the obituary carefully. She found the children’s names and searched for them on the internet. One had a landline listed, Lee Hacohen.

“I guess it’s the curiosity in my personality that I couldn’t leave it,” she said.

She called and left a message for the Hacohens’ son. He returned the call within five minutes and was surprised to hear from her.

It turned out the bench had been missing since November from Bell Island located across the Long Island Sound. It was believed the bench traveled more than 17 nautical miles after a nor’easter.

Lee Hacohen asked if Diane Wattecamps could stay on the phone while he contacted his brother Dean who still lived on Bell Island.

After talking to them, Dean Hacohen said he would come the next day, even though the couple were happy to drive it to Connecticut, but Dean wanted to get the bench back as soon as possible and said his neighbor could come to help.

In the meantime, family members sent Bob and Diane Wattecamps photos of the Bell Island couple. They also shared pictures of the grandchildren sitting on the bench, including Dean Hacohen’s daughter and son-in-law on their wedding day.

Nahum’s and Judy’s plaques. Photo from Dean Hacohen

Dean Hacohen said a neighbor had initially noticed that the bench, one of three at a neighborhood park at a spot called Rocky Point, was missing at the end of last year. At first, they thought maybe someone had taken it. While it’s heavy, two people can pick it up. Then a neighbor pointed out that there were nor’easters back in November. Since the benches are unsecured and people move them around the neighborhood park, Hacohen said it was assumed the bench was probably left by the water and washed away in a storm. The hope was that it would turn up along a neighboring Connecticut beach, and he posted on the Nextdoor app to see if anyone found it, but no one had.

When Diane Wattecamps called, he said he never “imagined in my wildest dreams” that it would be found on Long Island.

Before they received the call, the Hacohens were researching online how much a bench would cost to replace the original one.

“I kept putting it off and hoping that maybe some miracle would happen, but I really didn’t think it would,” Dean Hacohen said, adding he wasn’t sure how the bench made it in one piece, especially with boats on the water.

He and his neighbor took the ferry to Port Jefferson and drove straight to Diane and Bob’s home. When they got there, the bench was in the portico with a sign, “USS Hacohen.”

“It was a glorious moment,” he said. “It really was.”

He added some might say it’s just a bench. “On the other hand, it was kind of a memorial, a tombstone, something in the way people go to the cemetery and sit with their loved ones,” he said.

Often, Hacohen said, when family members come to visit from California, they will go to the park to sit on the beach shortly after arriving.

“They go out to the park, sit on the bench, look out at the water, ground themselves,” he said. “I don’t know, somehow sitting there is very grounding.”

The bench was initially dedicated to his father in 2009. “What a view,” was one of his favorite expressions when he came down to the park and took in the sight of nearly 360 degrees of water and islands. Dean Hacohen said his mother enjoyed sitting on the bench after her husband’s passing. He said both inscriptions capture the father’s and mother’s personalities.

Hacohen said when he inspected the bench upon seeing it, he was surprised that it was only a little “banged up.”

Dean Hacohen said his parents loved cruises, and his father was in the passenger cruise ship business in the 1960s, so it wasn’t a surprise the bench took them on one more trip on the water together.

“The two of them together must have been on that bench heading for Long Island,” Hacohen said.

Since the reunion, the story has caught the attention of News12 and NBC Channel 4 — with videos online — and The Norwalk Hour newspaper. Diane Wattecamps was surprised by all the attention even though she found connecting with the Hacohens heartwarming. She and her husband, Wattecamps said, plan to keep in touch with the family.

Hacohen called Diane Wattecamps “a real detective.”

“You’ve got to be born with that gene to want to use it,” he said. “Most people would have just walked by the bench and said, ‘Oh, It’s an old bench that washed up.’”

Photo by Pamela Murphy


Pamela Murphy took this photo at West Meadow Beach in her hometown of Stony Brook on Aug. 20. She writes, “I was impressed with the strength of someone I saw swimming against the current trailing a swim buoy as I’m a swimmer myself. Racing along with the swimmer was a boy on the shoreline. The seagulls overhead appeared to be calling the race! I reflected how it’s always a unique experience at our beautiful beach.”

Pictured from left,beach stewards Roberta Fabiano and Frank Fountain; Councilmember Kornreich and Nicole Pocchiare, Town of Brookhaven Environmental Educator. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

On July 19, Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich was at West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook to announce PSEG Long Island’s installation of an Osprey platform disk atop a utility pole on Trustees Road. 

The platform was installed to accommodate a pair of ospreys that chose the pole to build a nest upon but constantly caused a disruption of electric service. 

“The story of the osprey nest at the West Meadow Nature Preserve proves the adage that you can’t fight Mother Nature,” said Councilmember Kornreich. 

“The first few attempts at nest building by this pair of ospreys resulted in blown fuses on the pole, and PSEGLI made several attempts to introduce elements of “hostile architecture” to discourage them from further attempts. The ospreys’ persistence paid off, and finally PSEGLI decided to install a raised platform on top of the pole which would permit the birds to safely build their structure without damaging the electrical service. The nest has been rebuilt and we look forward to this breeding pair’s return to West Meadow after their migration,” he said. 

“It is so important that we find the balance between our use of the land and the preservation of this beautiful coast. To enjoy but also protect areas with unique ecology like that of West Meadow Beach and Creek. The installation of this platform for the Osprey’s Nest is a perfect example of how we can be more understanding and appreciative of the natural space we share. Let it be an inspiration for a trend of positive impact,” said Nicole Pocchiare, Town of Brookhaven Environmental Educator.

Many people assisted in the effort to maintain the nest in its present location, including Peter Fontaine, Town of Brookhaven Division of Environmental Protection Senior Analyst; John Turner, Town of Brookhaven Division of Environmental Protection Senior Analyst; Elaine Maas, Board of Directors, Four Harbors Audubon Society; and Lisanne Altmann and the installation crew from PSEG Lonf Island.