A Place Where the Only Constant is Change
The spot where you now stand will eventually be at the water's edge, and someday it will be gone entirely. Wind and waves continually reshape the shoreline. Through natural processes, the sea is eroding the land. Wind will build a dune, one sand grain at a time. An ocean storm can carve a new inlet over the course of one tidal cycle. The changes can be subtle or dramatic, but they are constant.
Coast Guard Beach is a barrier beach; it stretches to the south and protects the salt marsh from the effects of the open ocean. This beach formed when sand eroded from cliffs to the north. The sand was carried south by nearshore water currents, and was deposited here. Beach grass and other plants temporarily anchor the sand in place, but the beach itself is always moving-always changing. The ability of the beach to adapt to changing conditions will become more challenging in the face of climate change and associated sea level rise and intense storms.
"Cape Cod's Outer Beach...is not undiscovered country.
Still, the marks we make on it are erased in time. The sea and sand
insist on their own art. The beach is in a continuous state of remaking and invites discovery"
John Hay, The Great Beach
( upper right photo caption )
Coast Guard Beach is eroding at an average rate of
over three feet per year. This aerial photograph is from 1947. The retreating shoreline is shown in red (1970) and blue (2014).
( lower right photo caption )
Picture a 300-car parking lot and bathhouse to your right on the beach below. Everything washed away during a single storm in 1978. Often the first impulse after such a startling and drastic change is to rebuild. What would you have done? The National Park Service chose to build a new parking lot inland and now shuttles summer visitors to this beach. We continue to face similar erosion challenges at other areas in the park.