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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 |

Historic aerial view of the Chapoquoit barrier beach and the entrance to the harbor. Point to note: this photo was taken before the Little Island jetty was built. Insert: The narrow, fragile stretch of road that provides homeowner access to Chapoquoit Point is continually at risk, as seen in this photo from 2012. Photos courtesy of the Falmouth Museums on the Green

In 2015, a $120,000 Coastal Zone Management Green Infrastructure for Coastal Reliance Grant was awarded to the town to evaluate the feasibility of re-nourishing Chapoquoit Beach. The study considered using sand dredged from the Cape Cod Canal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to nourish a 3,600-foot stretch, from Chapoquoit to a northern section of Black Beach. As part of the grant, Woods Hole Group looked at sediment movement directions and rates, and found a further study was needed to evaluate the potential for increased shoaling at the entrance to West Falmouth Harbor—as of July 2017 it had yet to be implemented. Most notably, the plan does not call for re-nourishment on the southern stretch of Black Beach up to the inlet to the marsh. Fields says the area is highly dynamic. It has undergone severe erosion in recent years, and the integrity of the dune system is threatened.      

Berman says “healing” these and other beaches across the region through sand nourishment is easier said than done. “Beach nourishment is expensive,” he says, “sourcing it and getting it here.” Fields suggests that the total work involved should take into consideration the feasibility of targeted dredging in the event the nourishment project results in increased shoaling and affects navigation.

According to sources interviewed for this topic, efforts such as beach re-nourishment and the installation of revetments and other coastal armoring structures are likely to only delay or slow the natural process of erosion. Berman believes sea level rise in the next century will lead to an increased depth and extent of flooding, potentially damaging the Chapoquoit Road revetment. “There are not a lot of great answers,” he says. “There is no space to move the road landward due to development. All solutions should be done with eventual retreat in mind.”

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