Finneran: The Ocean Roars, Man Talks Back

Friday, March 16, 2018
Tom Finneran, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTERâ„¢

The ocean has been angry of late.

Pictures of towering waves and flooded streets suggest that Providence and Worcester may soon become prime waterfront property. Yikes!

Two stories in the Globe caught my eye.

The first story was about the uncovering of a shipwreck buried in the sands of a beach in York, Maine. Maine historians state that she was a sailing ship which plied New England waters between 1750 and 1850. Her keel and ribs remain intact, having been preserved and protected all these years by about a ten foot layer of wet sand. One of the several recent northeasters we’ve lived through washed away that layer of sand, exposing the bones of the wreck for all the world to see. Apparently this has happened once or twice before with this wreck as the police chief was quoted as saying that the town usually covers it back up with several feet of new sand. His comments got me thinking..............................

The second story comes out of Orleans, Massachusetts where town officials have noted horse and carriage tracks on the underlying peat of Nauset Beach. The Lower Cape towns of Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro have been hammered this winter by major storm surges on their Easterly shores. Tons of sand have been washed away, tearing at dunes and revealing the underlying peat base.

I myself have visited Coast Guard Beach in Eastham and I have never seen it so scarified. In any event, Orleans folks are suggesting that the horse and carriage tracks embedded in the peat beds are from the late 1800s or early 1900s. They further suggest that the peat beds were covered by about eighty-five feet of sand, all of which has been washed away by those angry waves!

Of course, none of this is really new, as the ocean has been eating away at Cape Cod for hundreds of years. Older charts and maps of the Cape suggest that the shoreline used to be about two miles further East than today’s shoreline. And the peat which is revealed by winter’s storms is the decayed residue of the fields and forests of old, where, back then, far removed from the ocean’s waves, they once grew strong in the warm summer sun. They are now part of Nature’s great cycle of reclamation.

That York police chief comment about covering up the Maine shipwreck with a deep layer of sand caught my eye. I’m familiar with some of the “beach nourishment” projects in Florida where sand which has been washed away by seasonal currents and tides is dredged up and pumped back gently upon the existing shores. It’s Florida’s way of maintaining the use and enjoyment of their beautiful beaches. And to my amateur eye, it seems to have no negative effect on the clarity of the water or the health of ocean habitats. Dolphins abound, smaller fish are seen everywhere, and the hungry pelicans reign supreme.

Why not the same dredging and re-nourishment for the National Seashore beaches? Some sand will be naturally restored by the seasonal breezes and spring and summer currents. However, the recent rate of winter erosion of dunes and the reaches of the upper beach has been so severe that a human-engineered boost is called for. Those beaches are prized historic assets and the pumping of sand now sitting a quarter-mile offshore would help stabilize the entire coast.

Man’s vanity projects are often mocked by Mother Nature. But in this case, a gentle hand and a light touch can help heal those beloved beaches from their severe wounds.

It’s time to start the dredges.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio


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