Beach Erosion Threatens Plum Island


(Photo Source: Zach Roberts)

Zach Roberts, Copy Editor

Plum Island is an 11-mile strip of sand and one of the 681 barrier beaches off the coast of Massachusetts. Home to many longtime residents and vacationers, Plum Island is a popular beach stop for both Granite and Bay Staters during the summer.

But since early 2013, Plum Island has fallen victim to beach erosion like many other beaches in Massachusetts. Due to the overall warming of the planet, the sea levels are rising more every year and causing severe erosion to beaches like Plum Island. A recent study has revealed that over the past four years, Plum Island has lost roughly 400 feet of sand dunes.

Beach erosion is costly both to the ecosystem of the beach and the economy that the beach supports. 

Eroding shorelines harm the natural ecosystem of the Plum Island beach, resulting in a decline in plant life, such as beach grass and beach heathers, which help to stabilize the sand and serve as a home to a variety of different insects. This change also harms animals native to the island, like the piping plover bird that feeds on the beach and the striped skunk that seeks refuge in the plant life of the beach.

The economy of the island is also negatively affected by beach erosion. The long-term residents and vacationers who own homes on the island have to spend their own money to rebuild seawalls and plant beach grass that is removed from rising sea levels. Each homeowner has roughly spent $40,000 to do this in the past four years. Also, as Plum Island loses shoreline, fewer visitors frequent the beach. Plum Island relies on tourism at its main economic drive.

At this time, environmentalist groups and towns of Newbury and Newburyport are in a stalemate. 

One argument is that dredging the island and bringing in more sand will disrupt the natural course of the ecosystem. On the other hand, the opposing argument is that the ecosystem is deteriorating rapidly and needs assistance from an outside source. 

Back in April 2019, the city of Newburyport planned to dredge 1,000 cubic yards of sand from Plum Island Point and redistribute it where it was needed. At that time, it was postponed until September, due to the city not being able to tie up that many workers on the project at that time. September came and went with little progress, and the eight week project has since yet to get underway.

Even small efforts to preserve the beaches have been put on hold to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected that small scale dredging and sand relocation will pick back up after it is safe to do so, but it remains to be seen whether the large scale operations will go through due to monetary and environmental concerns.

This is an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of many individuals, both residents, locals, vacationers, and tourists alike. There is hope for Plum Island and that it will continue being the popular landmark it has been for decades.