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Changing Shape of the Cape & Islands: Chatham’s Monomoy Islands and Stage Harbor

The Changing Shape of the Cape & Islands: Chatham’s Monomoy Islands and Stage Harbor, Cape Cod Life, April 2017 |

Breaches in Chatham’s barrier beach in 1987 and 2007 created two new inlets—at left, and above—and made North Beach an island. Photograph by Paul Rifkin (2016)

A short distance north, in January of 1987, a nor’easter caused a break (14) in Chatham’s barrier beach, just east of Chatham Light. This created North Beach (15) and South Beach Island (3), the latter of which, as a result of sediment piling up in the ensuing years, would connect to the mainland in 1992. Readers know this connection as Lighthouse Beach (5).

Currents continued to sweep sediment southward, and in 2006 South Beach Island stretched all the way to South Monomoy. Wave action and tidal flow dumped sand in the inlet to the Southway, ultimately clogging the opening and connecting the two sides (16). This was the first time Monomoy was connected to the mainland in half a century, and—as mentioned earlier—a scenic Monomoy-to-mainland walking route was created. Alas, the days of sailing through the Southway were over.

Like other “reunions” highlighted in this story, this one, too, was short-lived: South Beach was breached in February of 2013 (7). The breach measures some 2,000 feet across, creating an opening from ocean to Sound, but Keon says the channel’s use as a navigation shortcut is problematic. “It’s very shallow,” he says, “and difficult to navigate except at high tide.”

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