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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Volunteers Track Long-Term Trends in Beach Erosion

Posted by | January 22, 2015 | Filed under: Program Activities

Wells Reserve is looking for volunteers to assist with year-round data collection on southern Maine beaches. If you can help, please contact Emily Greene. To learn more about the program, check out Southern Maine Beach Profile Monitoring Program.

Ogunquit Beach

Sand beaches represent only a small portion of Maine’s coastline. Even so, they are incredibly valuable economically as well for recreational opportunities, important wildlife habitat, and mitigating the effects of coastal storms.

Sand beaches are subject to the effects of human engineering and the natural forces of sea level rise and climate change. Manmade structures such as sea walls and jetties disrupt the natural movement of sand along the beach creating areas of erosion. These alterations, combined with rising sea level and increased frequency and severity of storms, have contributed to an overall net loss of sand. These changes are of enough importance that in 2006 the Maine legislature created a beach stakeholders group to develop recommendations for protecting Maine's beaches.

Laudholm Beach Volunteers

To help understand how beaches respond to these factors the Southern Maine Beach Profile Monitoring Program was created in 1999 through a partnership between the University of Maine, Maine Sea Grant, Maine Geological Survey, and later with coastal communities in Southern Maine and the Wells Reserve.  Community volunteers collect monthly measurements of sand erosion and accretion at 13 beaches from York to South Portland.  The data they collect is submitted to the Maine Geological Survey (MGS) through an online database and state geologists then analyze the measurements to track trends in seasonal and long term beach condition as well as the impacts of large storms.  MGS produces a biennial report including the latest findings based on the volunteer data.

According to the most recent 2013 report, beaches in southern Maine have experienced increased erosion during winter when storms and wave action are at their most severe, but recover only moderately during summer. The report states, “Winter storms seem to be eroding more of the beaches during the winter season (both geographically, and spatially along the beach profile), and although they appear to be recovering the following summer season to an extent, more of those beaches are not recovering as well as they used to.”  See the full report here (PDF).

Ferry Beach Dune Restoration

The good news is that our beaches tend to recover sand in time for the summer season of beach recreation. The bad news is that in the years to come there may be less sand returning after the winter. There are steps beach managers can take such as importing sand, a practice known as beach nourishment.  Other steps include dune restoration by planting dune grass to stabilize the sand.  In response to the devastation wrought by hurricane Sandy some communities in New York are offering to buy damaged properties in order to revert them to natural dune systems. These options present high costs in the short term, but may prove effective over the long run.

More information is needed in order to track the developing conditions at Maine beaches. The Southern Maine Beach Profile Monitoring Program continues to provide important date on the changes occurring at beaches in southern Maine, which will inform the decisions that need to be made to conserve this vital resource.

July 17, 2015 is the date of the next Maine Beaches Conference at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. This day-long event occurs every two years and includes a diverse offering of topics related to coastal resources in Maine.

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