Witness to loss of sand

I am a third-generation lover of Horseneck Beach and grew up summering at the beach. For a long time my family was a member of Baker’s Beach and I recall many hot days playing in the sand and splashing in the water. With repeated visits to the beach I have observed many curiosities wash up including lobster pots, dead seals and a dead whale, and the hawser (big rope) that now decorates the pilings in front of my parents’ house. If you have been witness to these curiosities too, you will no doubt recall that they often migrate from left to right (east to west) down the beach as days and weeks go on.

The migration of these curiosities (“flotsam”) is indicative of the currents. The currents seem to flow both left and right depending on whether the tide is coming in or going out. However, they flow left more than they flow right which is why the flotsam moves left over time. The sand seems to be doing the same thing.

The migration of sand from left to right can also been observed in the growth of sandbars, one that juts out on a diagonal from the town section of the beach toward half-mile rock near “the Nubble”. The other is inside the mouth of the river and its growth intrudes on the harbor requiring occasional dredging.

My family did not notice the erosion of sand until about 10 years ago when the rocks on the beach started to become a nuisance under foot and when setting up umbrellas for a day at the beach. At first, they were thought to be the result of a storm and the expectation was that the sand would return. While storms may have accelerated erosion, the sad fact is that the sand does not appear to be returning.

We can point to many possible factors in the loss of sand but on a broad scale of time, we know that Horseneck accumulated sand for centuries. So much sand, in fact, that it accumulated into the barrier beach with our cherished dunes. But something changed that cause the sand to erode and the only logical conclusion is that the causeway to Goosebury is contributory if not causal.

Prior to the construction of the causeway, water used to flow over a shallow channel. It seems reasonable to believe that when the water spilled over the causeway, the currents on Horseneck were equalized. Said another way, the currents flowed equally left and right with the tides. By closing off the flow at Goosebury, the water that would have flowed over the shallow channel was redirected along the beach. This offset the equilibrium and began the changes that we witness today.

If the causeway is, in fact, to blame for the loss of equilibrium in currents and erosion of sand, then it stands to reason that removing the causeway or replacing it with a bridge that allows water to flow, would restore the equilibrium and the beach would begin to accumulate sand once again. Selfishly, that is what I would like so that my family and I can once again enjoy the sand under my feet, but what would happen if we did nothing?

What happens once the sand is gone? Are the dunes threatened? Do they depend on a continuous flow of sand from the beach? If they go, what happens to the wildlife? What happens to the houses on the barrier beach? And what about the barrier beach itself? Would it eventually erode or change in some fundamental way? And what would that mean for the harbor? For houses and business that enjoy or depend on the harbor?

These questions seem big and distant but when you stop to consider the fact that much of the beach has been eroded down to the stones, in a matter of 7 or 8 decades, it is not unreasonable to think about the consequences of what might happen next.

I believe in the need to remove the causeway but I know that the connection must be proved before any re-engineering project can be started. The current push is to get a study funded to prove the connection. The source of that funding, local, state or federal, is the subject of discussion now.

Dave Sprogis Jr