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The Changing Shape of the Cape & Islands: West Falmouth Harbor, Chapoquoit Beach & Black Beach

The Changing Shape of the Cape & Islands: West Falmouth Harbor, Chapoquoit Beach & Black Beach, September/October 2017 Cape Cod LIFE |

Photo courtesy of the Falmouth Museums on the Green

A stone seawall that runs along the coastal section of Chapoquoit Road was built years ago to protect the roadway. According to Greg Berman, a coastal processes specialist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, this was done because the road is the only way to access, by land, the residential neighborhood on Chapoquoit Point. However, Berman says what was done with the goal of protecting the road is having a detrimental effect today. “The revetment is actually causing enhanced erosion,” he says. “The waves at many high tides hit the revetment, causing turbulence, which increases the wave intensity, stirring up more sediment which is then taken from the beach.” To Berman, the revetment has played a role in the gradual loss of beach over the years, leaving both of the beaches “sediment starved.”

Black Beach stretches south from Chapoquoit Beach for three quarters of a mile to an inlet, which leads into the Great Sippewissett Marsh. Berman says the beach has undergone drastic changes in recent decades. “Black Beach used to be sandy,” he says. “Portions of the beach are rockier now. The beach isn’t growing rocks—the sand is going away. The waves are strong enough to take the sand but not strong enough to take the rocks, so they stay behind.”

Berman says even without the revetments, the beaches would undergo natural erosion with waves overwashing the beach and moving sand to the upland side. He adds that natural erosion typically occurs slowly enough that the shoreline can re-stabilize itself after such occurrences. Enhanced erosion, though, means that more sand is being moved at a faster rate, and Berman says this process is currently threatening to choke off parts of the marsh.

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