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Editor's Notes
Enjoying the spring melt

Growing seaweed sustainably
The Gulf of Maine is one of the best spots in the world to grow seaweed

Herring: A small fish that is a big deal
Balancing management regulations with the needs of the fishing industry.

Gulf Voices
A marsh in winter looks deceptively barren, but a host of plants and creatures lie in wait for spring’s light and warmth

Science Insights
Septic systems are gaining respect with new technology to boost performance

special web-only story
Q&A: Cameron Wake
Watching the changes in New England’s climate

Where eagles fly
Monitoring tagged eagles could reveal why river habitat is important

A visitor to the Bay of Fundy yearns to meet whales on their own terms

Marnie Reed Crowell waxes poetic on the spring melt, lichens and nature

Book Review
Atlantic Coast Beaches
explains the tides, creatures and storms that shape and change our beaches

Research Update:
Undersea vehicles use the latest technology to monitor offshore aquaculture pens

In the News

Book Review
Atlantic Coast Beaches

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Atlantic Coast BeachesMany of us return year after year to a particular coastal beach. This special stretch of sand or stones could be near our home or our summer vacation spot, or perhaps it is a day-trip destination. If we’re lucky, we get to visit it not just in the summer, but in all seasons. For me, that beach is found at Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg, Maine.

Our favorite beach is different every time we see it. We may wonder why it has a new contour, or notice that its surface has beautiful ripple patterns. It could be covered by interesting wrack or foam of unknown origin. Dunes may have shifted or new salt-tolerant plants taken root. The sand may even sing to us.

In Atlantic Coast Beaches: A Guide to Ripples, Dunes, and Other Natural Features of the Seashore, William Neal, Orrin Pilkey and Joseph Kelley write: “We love the beach, the critters it holds and nurtures, and the complex mechanisms that make it work. We’re intrigued by the physical processes that one can observe and understand if one learns how to read the beach.” In this engaging book, they help us appreciate our own beach and give us tools to be more attentive observers of the forces at work on it.

Neal, Pilkey, and Kelley explain beach influences as large as geologic setting, tides, and storms and as small as the microscopic organisms that live between grains of sand. They describe processes that occur over long periods of time and others whose evidence is erased with the incoming tide. The chance to see short-lived seasonal features, such as frozen wave swash (the water and materials carried onto the shore when a wave breaks) or an ice foot (a narrow strip of ice formed on the shore by the gradual freezing of wave spray) is a good reason to visit the shore in the winter months; Popham Beach and other beaches along the Gulf of Maine are ideal places to find such formations.

The chapter “Can You Read a Beach?” contains some great tips on being a beach detective: how to observe naturally occurring foam, wind structures in sand, sand layers, foot-sucking “bubbly sand,” and patterns left by invertebrates and plants. The authors “recommend that you put down your beer, binoculars, fishing pole, or the novel you brought to the beach and make some close-up beach observations.” In another chapter they discuss the variety of minerals and shells that make up sand, and how a handful of sand can tell much about the beach’s origins.

Because one intention of this book is to take people beyond looking for seashells, shells are described primarily in the context of how they came to be on a given beach. Fossil shells are more common than might be expected. They originate in ancient rock on the sea floor. As an interesting aside, the mechanism that causes 80 to 90 percent of shells to rest on the beach concave side down is revealed.

toadstoolsThe authors are able guides to this beach-reading. All three have written books on environmental problems facing East Coast beaches but have teamed up here to focus on natural processes. William Neal is professor emeritus and past chairman of the Department of Geology at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Orrin Pilkey is professor emeritus in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Science at Duke University in North Carolina. Joseph Kelley is a Maine native who is chairman of the Department of Earth Science at the University of Maine.

While the authors’ primary focus is natural processes, they do write that “beaches are indestructible, except when humans get involved.” They describe the negative consequences of trying to maintain beaches in fixed locations in front of buildings sited too close to the waterfront. Shore-hardening structures such as seawalls cut beaches off from replenishing sand. Beach nourishment programs are also temporary solutions, as factors that led to the original sand loss are still present. For instance, the beach at Camp Ellis, Maine, has been artificially replenished eight times since 1969. Importing beach material has the further ill effect of smothering native invertebrates and plants.

Many photographs and diagrams complement the text and a helpful glossary is included. Canadian readers should note that the beaches used as examples are limited to those found between Maine and Florida.

Oh, about those singing beaches. It’s a sound sometimes made when dry sand grains of similar size slide against each other, as when children or playful adults shuffle along. It’s just one of the many things readers will know to look and listen for on their next walk along their favorite beach.

Lee Bumsted writes on conservation and outdoor recreation topics from South Portland, Maine.


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