Waves Against Cape Cod: An Uneasy Truce by Victor and Yvonne E. Goldsmith

The Cape Naturalist: Vol 1 No 1

June, 1972

The outer beach of Cape Cod from Provincetown to Monomoy Point may be considered to be 30 miles out to sea, and as such, is subject to the relentless attack of the waves. However, the outer beach has shown that it is capable of adjusting to the continuous onslaught of the waves through changes in the shoreline configuration. Two of these coastal processes will be discussed in detail.

The Growing Shield. A glance at a map shows that the outer beach of Cape Cod resembles a curved shield which appears to protect the Cape from the storm waves generated out in the Atlantic. Most of the waves approach Cape Cod from the east-northeast. The cliff and beach of the outer Cape in the Truro vicinity, in the center of the shield, are oriented perpendicular to the dominant wave approach direction, and so receive the brunt of the wave attack. North of Highland Light and south of Marconi Station the east-northeast waves approach the outer Cape shoreline at an oblique angle, and some of the wave energy is transformed into longshore currents which flow parallel to the shore and in the general direction of the wave advance. These currents transport much of the sediment eroded from the Truro cliffs to Race Point and Long Point to the northwest, and to Nauset Spit and Monomoy Island to the south. Indeed all four of these features were formed as a direct result of the processes of wave induced longshore currents discussed above.

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Birding on Cape Cod by Randolph Bartlett

The Cape Naturalist: Vol 1 No 1

June, 1972

The geographical uniqueness of Cape Cod makes it an exciting place for the summer visitor interested in bird watching. The Cape’s varied terrain and moderate maritime climate makes it a home or regular port-of-call for nearly 400 species and sub-species of land and shore birds.

The two best months to observe these assorted “goodies” (both quantitatively and qualitatively) are July and August, when the fall migration is in progress. Lasting from July through October, the migration reaches a peak of shorebirds in mid-August, and of landbirds in September when our beaches, marshlands, and woodlands furnish food and rest for thousands of weary feathered travelers. These birds may stay only a few hours, or they may remain for several weeks. In fact, it is not uncommon for some to double their body weight during this time in preparation for long, arduous, non-stop flights to Caribbean Islands or even South America.

Rule #1 for birding on Cape Cod is to keep the weather and tides in mind. In less than a few hours, a day which begins bright and calm can become overcast, cold, and stormy -particularly when the winds shift into the easterly quadrant of the compass. Although good Nor’easters may last three days or more, they can be a blessing to the hardy birder, since their strong winds frequently carry in unexpected species to the Cape. In this connection, First Encounter Beach in Eastham is an excellent spot to find sea birds after a storm.

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Oil Spill on the Wild Harbor Marsh by John M. Teal and Kathryn A. Burns

The Cape Naturalist: Vol 1 No 1

June, 1972

Oil Spill on the Wild Harbor Marsh

by John M. Teal and Kathryn A. Burns

The oil spill at West Falmouth which resulted from the grounding of a fuel oil barge in September 1969, is probably the best studied such accident in the world. Within one week of the spill scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution began studying the lethal effects of the oil on bottom animals. Observation of changes in abundance and distribution of animals and chemical characteristics of the oil remaining in the sediments have continued to the present.

Our work has dealt with the effects of the oil on the salt marshes of the Wild Harbor river onto which the oil was carried by a storm a few days after the spill. In spite of large numbers of dead estuarine animals, the immediate, apparent effect of the oil on the marsh itself was minimal. Marsh grasses were already seasonally brown when oiled. Dead fish and mussels were found on the marsh surface but throughout the first winter after the spill the marsh was fairly normal in appearance. During the following spring the effect of the oil became apparent.

Grass did not sprout on the oiled marsh as it did on the unoiled portions which turned green as usual. A small growth of green algae, along with a scattering of Salicornia (saltwort) grew on the oiled surface but the sparse growth only emphasized how complete was the destruction. Plant production of the oiled portion was reduced to zero. What little production remained was not sufficient to offset the rate of decomposition. The latter was determined by measuring carbon dioxide production resulting from the respiratory activity of all marsh organisms. Since only a few minute soil animals remained in the marsh, most of this activity was due to bacteria. Even this bacterial activity on the oiled marsh was only one quarter of that on the nearby healthy marsh.

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