Many Massachusetts beaches getting hammered by accelerating erosion

Mass — The Massachusetts coastline is blessed with some of the prettiest beaches in the world.

Sadly, beach erosion is washing away big chunks of the state’s iconic 1,500-mile coastline.

Beaches are dynamic and there is always going to be a certain amount of movement between the ocean and the sand.

Higher sea levels and more powerful storms fueled by climate change are accelerating that process.

Jonathan Lyons has been going to South Cape Beach in Mashpee since he was five years old. Beach erosion there is obvious to his family.

“It’s definitely something my mother pointed out. On the way up, she was saying you’re going to notice the beaches are eroding.”

Today, he says the fishing is good here but doesn’t think it would be great place to visit this summer.

“I mean there’s not much room to put chairs outside. It’s going to be hard with the big volume of people that come here in the summer.”

Last month, the town of Mashpee nourished the beach which is a process of fortifying the dunes by adding tons of sand. It’s one method to try to slow down erosion.

State Senator Julian Cyr who represents the Cape and Islands said “We have a natural environment that shifts and moves sand. What climate change, erosion, and sea level rise is doing is accelerating those natural timelines.”

Cyr added “You can’t make a life on Cape Cod or the Islands and be here for very long without noticing how our shoreline is changing. Here on Cape Cod, we’re losing about 33 acres a year to erosion. On the Outer Cape, where I live in Truro and in Wellfleet, we’re seeing up to three feet of erosion every year. You can clearly see how chunks of sand and clay have been removed.”

North of Boston, at Crane Beach in Ipswich, the situation is just as dire.

Cynthia Dittbrenner, Director of Coast and Natural Resources at the Trustees of Reservations said “Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen 2,000 feet of erosion, so that’s about 70 feet a year. Compare that to the last 180 years where we’ve only seen about five feet a year. We’re seeing a lot faster erosion happening as a result of some of these big storms.”

She says they’ve decided to just monitor Crane Beach for the time being, accepting that shifting sands are natural, even if the process has been accelerated in recent years.

“But other areas of the state, where you see accelerated erosion and you have the human infrastructure there, then that infrastructure is at risk and so towns and municipalities would want to think about how we protect or adapt that infrastructure?”

Dittbrenner said the erosion problem is being experienced all over the state.

Parts of Plum Island in Newbury have been hammered in recent years. She said Norton Point Beach on Martha’s Vineyard has lost 1,500 feet of beachfront in the last 20 years.

Another consideration, according to Cyr, will be access to beaches.

“We’re losing parking lots at Ballston Beach, there used to be about twice the number of parking spaces”

Dittbrenner said the issue at Crane Beach will be the access road. “That has been flooding more frequently over the last three years, and by 2050, we’re expecting to see that underwater every day at high tide, so that will greatly restrict people’s access out here.”

Solutions to these problems will be pricey but ignoring them comes at a cost.

Back in Mashpee, Lyons said “If you don’t have beaches a lot of the local economy is going to suffer. A lot of the restaurants, places that rent out bikes, and these things. It will hurt tourism.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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