Category Archives: Beach of the Month

Jasper Beach, Machiasport, Maine, USA; By Joe Kelley

By Joe Kelley, University of Maine

Jasper Beach takes the breath away from a first-time visitor. It is located in remote, “Downeast” Maine, USA, at the end of a 10 km (6 miles) peninsula (Figure 1).

The area is very rural with only a few fishing villages, though in recent years, grand vacation homes have sprung upon on some nearby rocky cliffs. As a measure of its remote nature, the 800 m long gravel beach and much of a nearby forested, rocky peninsula was available for less than $50,000 20 years ago. Fortunately, the town of Machiasport, ME bought the beach as a park, and it is free to visit. So lucky for us all!

Jasper Beach is composed of red-colored gravel. Though not “true” Jasper (a silica-rich stone with some iron in it), the fine-grained red volcanic rock polishes well and the long spit gleams in the morning light (Figure 2).

On its extreme western end an eroding bluff of glacial material provides an obvious source of gravel for the beach (Figure 3).

The stones that fall from the bluff range up to 10 cm in length (5 inches), but many sizes occur together near the source. Waves take the eroded material to the east and progressively break the stones down as they travel. About 500 m away from the bluff, there is enough sand in the upper beach to trap rainwater and permit sand dune plants to live. By the eastern end of the strand, the beach material is a mix of fine gravel and sand.

Jasper Beach has a vertical dimension that is not seen in typical sandy beaches. The tides in the area are up to 4.25 m (14 feet) and the beach extends steeply upward for another 4 m (Figure 4).

This high pile of gravel is eroded by waves in winter storms and several erosional steps, or storm berms, are typically cut into the seaward side of the beach. On the landward edge, gravel thrown up by storms surrounds alder and spruce trees, marking the landward advance of the barrier spit. Rising sea level will continue to drive the beach landward over a salt marsh and lagoon, but here there is so little development that it is of no concern.

Other evidence for rising sea level can be seen on low tide at Jasper Beach. As the ocean has risen and driven the immense pile of gravel landward, the beach has rolled over salt marsh and upland plants. Spruce stumps still rooted in soil and overlain by salt marsh peat are exposed at the lowest part of the beach. Geologists from the University of Maine have radiocarbon-dated these and drilled cores through the nearby lagoon to determine the age of the beach (Figures 5, 6).

For more than 4,000 years, Jasper Beach has protected a salt marsh and maintained a lagoonal ecosystem.

Though remote, there are signs of human activity around Jasper Beach. On nearby Howard Cove Mountain, an abandoned distant early warning (DEW) radar station (Figure 4) reminds us of the Cold War.

Fishing weirs (Figure 7) were also a part of the beach when fish abounded in the Gulf of Maine and canneries employed people in Machiasport. These are no longer used, however, and Jasper Beach is largely just a great place to walk and watch Bald Eagles. Unfortunately, a new human activity has appeared on Jasper Beach, one sadly prevalent in rural areas: beach mining. No one will say who takes the red stones from the beach, but a large borrow pit scars the beach near the parking lot (Figure 8).

The State is aware of this robbery and hopefully the guilty, who presumably sell their wares as jewelry to tourists, will be found.

A final note on the unique nature of Jasper Beach is the audio component. Wave after wave rushes in and out and moves the stones back and forth with a rumbling sound. This is so peaceful in the summer; one can scarcely imaging the sound in a winter storm!

The islands of the Outer Hebrides, Scotland; By Andrew Cooper

sielebost

By Andrew Cooper, University of Ulster

The islands of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland comprise the Uists, Harris and Lewis.

The isolated, rocky islands are fringed with beautiful sandy beaches that are often compared to those of the Caribbean, in appearance, but not climate! They are also famous for the unusual coastal features known as “machair” that occur there.

Machair (a Gallic word for a flat plain) is a flat sandy plain made up of wind-blown sand that is covered in grasses and is therefore a favoured site for grazing by local communal farmers known as crofters. It only occurs in western Scotland and Ireland where winds are very strong and persistent. The machair along the Uists is highest at the back of the beaches from which their sand is blown. Sometimes there is even a dune ride on the seaward edge of the machair, but the machair slopes landward and large areas are below present high tide level. They therefore need the protection of the dune which acts like a natural dyke. Both the beaches and dune/machair are made of predominantly of carbonate sand (the shells of dead marine creatures). The coastline has been retreating along most of this coast from many years due to rising sea level and a sediment deficit. There has been a long history of removal of beach sand for agricultural purposes.

A severe storm in 2005 caused widespread damage and loss of life along the island chain. It also caused substantial coastal erosion, particularly of the coastal dune and machair. At many locations, the erosion of the dune has left the machair behind it at risk of flooding from future high tides and there is much concern about the potential loss of farmland behind the dune. The erosion has also revealed some important archaeological sites- Iron Age ‘wheel houses’ (so called because they resemble a wheel in plan) have been exposed at the coast by the erosion. They are being carefully recorded by local archaeologists as successive high tides cause more erosion and reveal more parts of the structures.

Concern among the crofters (communal farmers) about potential flooding of low-lying areas behind the frontal dune has led to calls for coastal defences to be constructed and low-cost works involving tyres are being considered, despite the environmental damage they are likely to cause.

The photos show the spectacular beach at Seilibost, and traditional farming on the machair (the flat plain of wind-blown sand, which is the main area of arable land). Erosion of the seaward edge of the dunes, and machair, exposed archaeological sites and peat exposed on the foreshore, are all indications of shoreline retreat, which is promoted by low sediment supply and sea level rise.

south uist beach

Four-Mile Beach, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada; By William J. Neal

4 Miles Beach, Canada

By William J. Neal, Department of Geology, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI

Thinking of beaches may not bring to mind Eastern Canada, particularly Nova Scotia’s rugged Cape Breton Island, but this beautiful coast has several pocket and bay-mouth bar beaches as scenic as any to be found in North America.

Four-Mile Beach is an example of the latter, controlled by its geologic setting, and a sediment supply from the erosion of adjacent bluffs and cliffs, and transport by longshore currents. Aspy Bay on the northeast side of Cape Breton occupies a topographic low between highlands of ancient granites and metasediments that jut into the Atlantic as great headlands. Baymouth bars grew across the inner embayment from north to south as sediments were carried by the longshore currents from these adjacent headlands, creating a chain of barrier beaches connecting smaller bedrock headlands. [Photo A]

These barrier beaches behave somewhat like narrow barrier islands in that they are breached by inlets, and washed over by storm waves. Four-Mile Beach is appropriately named as its total distance is close to 4 miles, however, the beach is not continuous and is interrupted by a couple of inlets and the harbor entrance to the small fishing village of Dingwall. The best beach access is via the Cabot Landing Provincial Park (lat. 46° 56’ 34” N; long. 60° 27’ 45” W; north off of the Cabot Trail Highway on Bay St. Lawrence Road, just north of Sugar Loaf).

Swimming in the cold Canadian waters is not for the faint of heart, however this beach provides an excellent natural setting for hiking and beach combing. The brownish red, coarse sand reflects compositions of the eroding source rocks where the beach originates against the sea-cliff faces, and the sand fraction is dominated by quartz, pink feldspar, and sand-to-gravel sized rock fragments. [Photo B]

Glacially derived sediments make up the low bluffs in the vicinity of the park, and account for a wide variety of rock types found in the coarser gravel fraction. [Photo C]

A mat of tree roots and bound soil overhangs the erosional scarp. The bare rock outcrops and layered sediments that make up the cliff and bluff faces at the back of the north beach are evidence of significant erosion from both waves and mass wasting. Large slumps cut well back into the upland heights which fortunately are not developed. [Photo D]

Continuing south onto the barrier beach, the sediments tend to become finer, better sorted sands, although patches of gravel are concentrated at the storm-tide line and in the heads of cusps. [Photo E]

At times, sand hoppers abound and the beach surface seems to be moving. When their shallow holes are flooded by wave swash, escaping air creates miniature sand volcanoes. [Photo F]

Finer wind-blown sands have built a continuous, low foredune along most of the baymouth portion of the beach. [Photo G]

The role of beach grass in trapping the sand is apparent, and has produced a suitable habitat for piping plovers. Unfortunately, visitors do not heed park signs that warn to keep dogs on leashes, and not to walk in the dune areas where nesting occurs.During any given visit one finds wrack lines of marine plants washed ashore, and often man-made materials such as the occasional lobster trap. On our visit, the wrack line had an abundance of what appeared to be shredded white, paper-like material of unidentified origin. [Photo H]

West Point, Seattle, Washington; By Hugh Shipman

westpoint_1

By Hugh Shipman, Coastal Geologist, Washington State Department of Ecology

The Salish people, who lived on West Point for thousands of years, called this place Pka’dz Elue, for “thrust far out.” This is an apt name for the low point of land that extends westward into the deep waters of Puget Sound from Seattle’s Discovery Park. From its tip, one can look 20 miles north and south along the main basin of Puget Sound.

West Point’s South Beach is a wonderful stretch of sand and gravel extending from Magnolia Bluff at its eastern end to the lighthouse at its western tip. Unlike Seattle’s more urban beaches, South Beach retains a natural character and a sense of remoteness from the city. This is a little surprising for a beach that was buried under riprap in the 1960s and that hosts the region’s largest sewage treatment plant, but it also says something about the resilience of beaches and changing public attitudes toward our shorelines.

West Point is what geologists call a cuspate foreland, essentially the convergence of two spits, each built of sediment transported from eroding bluffs to the east. South Beach is the product of many centuries of landslides along two miles of Magnolia Bluff, Seattle’s most geologically spectacular neighborhood. These bluffs are now largely stabilized with drainage works and seawalls, but as recently as 1997 six homes slid to the beach. The only remaining source of sediment to this beach is a large, active landslide within Discovery Park itself.

Like so many beaches, South Beach has a long and complicated story. 1100 years ago, a major earthquake on the Seattle Fault caused West Point to subside three feet. At the same time, beaches just a few kilometers south, on the other side of the fault, were raised twenty feet out of the Sound.

The tsunami generated by the earthquake washed northward over West Point, leaving behind a telltale layer of sand on top of the old marsh and backshore surface.

When European settlers arrived in the late 1800s, West Point looked much as it does today, except at that time there was also a tidal lagoon and salt marsh that drained on the north side. The Point became the site of a lighthouse and later of Fort Lawton. In the 1960s, Seattle chose West Point as the site of its new sewage treatment plant. The tidal lagoon was filled in, the plant constructed, and a large sewage pond, contained by a riprap dike, was built on top of South Beach.

Times change quickly and in the 1970s the City obtained much of Fort Lawton and established Discovery Park. In 1980, when improvements were needed to the sewage plant, the city saw an opportunity to greatly enhance the beach within its newly created park. Guided by local outdoor legend and beach advocate, Wolf Bauer, the sewage pond and riprap were removed, the beach was nourished with sand and gravel, and the backshore restored and revegetated.

Most visitors to this popular park probably don’t realize that the beach is nourished and restored, any more than they notice the hum of the pumps and digesters within the treatment plant screened behind the vegetated walls and landscape berms.

Puget Sound’s beaches are a story of sand and gravel eroded from nearby bluffs and transported by longshore drift to hundreds of small spits and barrier beaches. West Point is typical of these Puget Sound shorelines, with its mixed sand and gravel beach, piles of driftwood, and high, forested bluffs down to the water’s edge. A broad low-tide terrace extends far offshore before plunging to depths of over five hundred feet.

There is an increasing awareness of the importance of these beaches in the larger Puget Sound ecosystem, but along with it is growing concern about the effects of past changes and the potential of future losses. Seawalls now armor almost one third of Puget Sound’s 2500 mile shoreline, cutting off sediment supplies and drawing a harsh line between terrestrial and marine environments. As on beaches everywhere, property owners build seawalls in large part to protect themselves and their property. The reality is that erosion rates on much of Puget Sound are slow and few homes are threatened, so much of this armoring is done as much to improve property as to preserve it. Unfortunately, addressing the long-term implications is both technically and politically challenging.

Puget Sound is emblematic of a growing global understanding of sheltered coasts and estuarine beaches. These beaches have many of the same problems as ocean beaches, but haven’t always received the same level of attention.They are often highly diverse ecosystems and they represent much of the length of the world’s coastline. Many are in heavily urbanized regions, where the footprint of human activities is large and its legacy not readily erased.

Puget Sound will experience incredible growth in the coming century and maintaining natural beaches in an emerging Pacific Rim megalopolis will be challenging. In our most urbanized areas, we may be able to create beaches and shoreline habitat, but doing so will be far more expensive and less sustainable than preserving the beaches we have. The prospect of higher sea levels will only make the challenges more pressing and more difficult.

Photos Source: Hugh Shipman, Coastal Geologist, Washington State Department of Ecology
Feature Gallery Picture: A. Eakin

Gravel Beach

Eighty Mile beach, North Western Australia; By Andrew Short

80 Mile Beach, AU

View of the northern end of Eighty Mile beach at Cape Missiessy showing the wide ultradissipative beach at low tide with the low tide flats extending 100 ‘s m offshore and mangroves fringing the cape shore.

By Andrew Short, School of Geosiences, University of Sidney

Eighty Mile beach is one of the three longest beaches in Australia extending for 222 km from Cape Keraudren in the south to Cape Missiessy in the north between latitudes 19-20°S. The beach is located across in the Canning Basin a 400 000 km2 sedimentary basin that has been infilling since the Ordivician.

The beach is located in the arid northwest of Western Australia and has a hot dry desert climate with rainfall less than 400 mm per year, with temperatures averaging over in the 30°C during summer. The beach is however exposed to summer tropical cyclones, which tend to track down the coast usually crossing at cyclone alley just south of the beach between Onslow (20°S) and Port Heland (21°S). Cyclones do however make landfall along the beach and in the past they have wiped out the pearling fleet, which used to operate along the coast.

The beach is exposed to macro-tides up to 7 m, with waves usually low owing to the predominately offshore westerlies. The low waves, high tides and fine to medium carbonate (80-96%) sand maintain a well developed ultradissipative beach morphology. At low tide it is possible to walk hundreds of metres out across the low tide flats. The beach and flats do however produce an abundance of shells, and people come to visit the beach just to collect shells.

The beach is backed by a series of well-developed foredune ridges, which in the south have been activated into a transverse dune field. A series of eight tidal creeks also cross the beach, which in some places is also interrupted by beachrock outcrops.

The only development on the beach is the Eighty Mile Beach caravan park, located towards the centre behind the foredune. Pastoral properties carrying sheep back some of the beach, and in the south at Cape Keraudren is an informal camping area very popular during the winter months. The North West highway runs 20-30 km inland.

Forsol, Hammerfest, Norway; By Andrew Cooper

Forsol Beach

By Andrew Cooper, University of Ulster

The coast of northern Norway is much warmer than equivalent latitudes in North America and Asia, proof of the North Atlantic Drift that caries equatorial water to these northern latitudes and gives north western Europe its moderate climate.

Near Hammerfest (71oN- equivalent to Baffin Island) small sandy beaches have developed in little bays on what is otherwise a high, rocky coastline. Near the fishing village of Forsol is a small beach that is only accessible by a foot track over a high rocky hill that bears very fresh scars of the last glaciation. The beach is made of fine carbonate sand derived from the skeletons of marine organisms, a type of beach that is more commonly associated with the tropics. Here, however, despite the latitude, this is the only source of sand as the resistant bedrock produces only pebbles and boulders.

The small flat beach is cut by several small streams that drain the mountainous surrounding landscape. These streams create tiny channels as they run across it and reveal the sand to be just a thin veneer on the surface. The large number of streams means that the beach hardly dries out, even at low tide.

Consequently, there is only a tiny area of wind-blown sand dunes a few metres long at one end of the beach. Behind the modern beach is an area of bog peat sustained by the water flowing constantly from the steep mountainous slopes all around. Behind the bog is a large raised beach made up of boulders, which bears testimony to the fact that the land has risen here faster than sea level for the past few thousand years at least.

Despite its inaccessibility, the local authorities have provided a visitors book, complete with pen, in a specially constructed box that looks like a North American mailbox. A visitor to the area in summer will have to compete with reindeer for space as the Sami herdsmen graze their animals near the coast at this time of year. In winter they are driven inland to drier pastures.

The Hammerfest area is one study site in the European “CoastAdapt” project which is working with local coastal communities to consider the options for adapting to future climate change.

Pondicherry-Tamil Nadu, South India; By Aurofilio Schiavina

After June 2002

Anthropogenic coastal erosion along the Pondicherry-Tamil Nadu coastline, South India

© By Aurofilio Schiavina

The town of Pondicherry lies on the eastern coast of the South Indian peninsula. About 100 km to the south of Pondicherry is the Cauvery delta, fed by the Cauvery River that flows from the west to east across the Indian peninsula depositing considerably large volumes of sand. The large input of sediment along the eastern coast of India resulted in the formation of large and wide sandy beaches, dunes and estuaries.

Two monsoon seasons drive the sand and sediment up and down the eastern coast of India. The south-west monsoon season lasts for about 8 to 9 months from March to October, and the north-eastern monsoon season lasts for about 3-4 months during the remaining winter months. It is estimated that during the SW monsoon about 0.5 to 1.0 million cubic meters of sand are driven northwards by the waves, winds and littoral currents. The situation reverses itself during the NW monsoon and about 0.1 – 0.2 million cubic meters of sand is driven southwards. This uneven movement of sand or littoral drift along the coast results in a net movement and transportation of sand towards the north.

In 1989, the Government of Pondicherry received funds for the development of a small commercial harbor near Pondicherry at the mouth of the Ariyankuppam River. The design included a 350 m long jetty and breakwater at the harbor entrance and a sand by-passing system to help mitigate the impacts of erosion that an artificial structure along the coast would cause to the north of the harbor. This region north of the harbor, near Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu is densely populated.

Unfortunately, Pondicherry harbor generated little revenue. This resulted in no available funding for the mitigation and sand by-passing system. Dredging occurs only when the harbor mouth gets choked with sand. This deepens the channel for the increasing number of fishermen who have adopted this harbor. Due to the lack of dredging, mostly as a result of the lack of political will and bureaucratic hurdles the sand by-passing system was not fully implemented. As a result, the breakwaters at the harbor entrance have interfered and interrupted the littoral drift causing severe and extensive erosion to the north of the harbor.

By the mid-late 1990s, the erosion of the Pondicherry coast was severe. Instead of utilizing the sand by-passing system, government agencies elected to armor the beach with large rocks, build a seawall, and construct several groins to protect the town. These measures did not address the root cause of the problem; the interruption of the littoral drift. As a result of the use of hard coastal protection measures (instead of sand by-passing), up to 10 km of beaches to the north of the harbor have completely been lost and signs of coastal erosion can be seen up to a distance of about 30 km. It is estimated that the erosion is advancing northwards at a rate of about 500 meters a year.

The erosion of this coast has resulted in the loss of beaches including 200 acres of coastal land and environment. Most importantly, erosion has destroyed the homes of poor traditional fishing families who live next to the sea. A government report states that about 35,000 fishing families are vulnerable to inundation from the sea. This land loss has severely affected their livelihoods as they use the beach space for all their activities. It has also caused saltwater intrusion into their aquifers, leading to shortages of drinking water.

Erosion from poorly planned engineering activities has extended into the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu causing inter-state problems. The construction of more seawalls and groins is being considered by the government, but informed citizens and environmental groups such Pondy Citizens’ Action Network (Pondy CAN!) are trying to put an end to this man-made disaster. These groups are asking the government to take all the required measures to restore this coastal environment without hardened beach structures.

The erosion of Pondicherry beaches is not an isolated case along the Indian coastline; it is estimated that the Indian coastline has already lost about 25% (1,500 km) of its beaches due to anthropogenic factors. It is hoped that reversing the erosion caused in Pondicherry and restoring this part of the coastline could serve as a model and example which could be replicated in other parts of this country and region.

Pondicherry Tamil Nadu Beach Erosion

PondyCan Organization

Goleta Beach, California; By Claire Le Guern

Goleta Beach

By Claire Le Guern

Goleta Beach County Park, occupies approximately 29 acres with 4,200 feet of beach frontage in Santa Barbara County. The Beach Park is bounded on the west by the University of California at Santa Barbara and to the north and east, by private natural gas generation and storage facilities. An easement containing various utility and sewage lines traverses the park. To the northwest, Clarence Ward Memorial Boulevard separates the Park from the greater area of Goleta Slough and the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. All portions of Goleta Beach Park situated landward of the sandy beach are located on top of a clay-rich fill base.

Goleta Beach Park has been a treasured community investment going back to the early 1900s. Today it is still the most heavily used park in the Santa Barbara County system, with an estimated 1.4 million visitors per year.

An ongoing problem concerning Goleta Beach is coastal erosion; sand and sediment is constantly being washed away and the beach is narrowing. After facing several El Niño storms, in the last 14 years, the beach has been eroding at an average rate of 20 feet (6 m)-per-year, and the park and its structures is in danger of being lost.

In response to this erosion, the County has placed several rock revetments on Goleta Beach in attempt to protect the park structures.

In 2009, the California Coastal Commission voted 9-1 to deny Santa Barbara County’s proposal to build a permeable pile pier, a “hard” structure designed to allegedly slow the effects of beach erosion by holding sand on the beach along the wharf at Goleta Beach. But in doing so, this groin project would have interfered with down-coast movement of sand to other beaches.

In March 2010, a “soft “option was chosen, that is: beach nourishment (actually re-nourishment or replenishment). In a sense, beach nourishment certainly appears as a far better solution than construction of hardened structures such as sea walls and groins, in that it allows the beach to continue to exist, well…temporarily! Indeed, beaches must be nourished in perpetuity, again and again and again. One can look at the nourishment record of nearby beaches to get a very rough idea of how long a particular beach may last, but of course, if the big storm occurs the day after the beach is nourished all estimates are meaningless… (Orin Pilkey, PSDS).

Beach (re-)nourishment involves bringing in sand by dredge, barge, or truck, to artificially build up the height and breadth of naturally disappearing beaches. Approximately 50,000 cubic yards of sand
necessary to Goleta’s beach replenishment, has been collected from Santa Barbara West Beach and Harbor. The nourishment project cost was 1.6 millions dollars.

Beach nourishment has both direct and indirect effects upon flora and fauna of the sandy shore, impacts that occur during dredging of subtidal sand, as well as those that occur during emplacement. The loss of beach critters is believed to impact on the shore birds and the swimming nearshore creatures, and to reduce the quality of fishing.

Key to the (temporary) performance of a beach nourishment project resides in sand compatibility used to nourish, the eroding shoreline. The borrow sand must contain essentially all of the same grain sizes that exist on the beach to be replenished. Thus, sand compatibility studies are of utmost importance. Costs for such investigations range from $100,000 to more than $500,000. Nationwide there has been a lack of control of beach sand quality for nourished beaches leading to dozens of beaches that are too rocky, too shelly or with a high mud content.

The shape of a beach may vary over distances of a kilometer to hundreds of kilometers and is based on the balance between processes that promote erosion and processes that favor deposition of sediment. Palliatives and artificial attempts to slow beach erosion exacerbate the problem. Thus, Nature needs to be observed and apprehended in responsible ways, and coastal developpement, construction and re-configuration need to be in accordance with reality.

Santa Barbara County Parks held a public forum last April, to discuss Goleta Beach 2.0, a new plan to protect Goleta Beach from land erosion. The plan includes the option called managed retreat whereby structures, utility lines and the west end parking area at Goleta Beach Park would be moved away from the beach to allow a more natural erosion buffer zone.

The managed retreat option appears as the best solution. Beaches are dynamic, changing in shape over both space and time, while the seas are rising. As the beaches are allowed to naturally grow, upper beach dune plants and dunes will eventually form.

These are nature’s best form of coastal defense.

Isle Grand Terre, Louisiana; By Adam Griffith & Robert Young

Isle Grand Terre, Louisiana

By Adam Griffith and Robert Young.

Two months ago, few people had heard of the ironically-named Isle Grand Terre. This small, low-elevation barrier island sits on the edge of the Mississippi River Delta in southern Louisiana. Grand Terre is one of many very small barriers that have formed as delta sediments are reworked by waves into sandy ribbons fringing the inner estuary. Facing south into the Gulf of Mexico, the island has been a storm buffer for the delta’s coastal wetlands and habitat for numerous shore birds and other sea creatures.

Thick oil has been washing up on the shores of the island for days and the oil is coating the plants and animals of the wetlands, including the Brown Pelican, Louisiana’s state bird. The formerly beautiful barrier island, accessible only by boat, is covered with dune flowers. The impact of the oil on this unique ecosystem will be terrible.

On the 28th of May, President Obama visited the clean beaches of Grand Isle, Louisiana, a mere 0.4 miles to the southwest. Not a drop of oil or single tar ball could be seen on those beaches. In advance of his visit, four bus loads of workers combed the beach on Grand Isle for any sign of oil, but there was little if any oil to begin with. The contrast between these islands is as striking as the contrast between the puffy white clouds reflected in the pools of dark crude oil covering Isle Grand Terre.

When scientists arrived on Isle Grand Terre on the morning of May 27th, officers from Unified Command arrived 30 minutes later and asked them where the oil was. When the officers shouted to the scientists “Stop right there!” through the bushes, it was to take pictures of the scientists’ equipment with cell phone cameras. These actions were surprising and it made us wonder about the sense of urgency that is being conveyed to the workers. While it is easy to be critical of many parties in this still-unfolding tragedy, it is clear that scientists, industry, non-profits, and the government will all need to work together to clean up the mess that BP has left.