Posted by: coastlinesproject | April 20, 2017

Some in China critical of North Korea.

Posted by: coastlinesproject | April 18, 2017

Giant shipworm, the unicorn of mollusks discovered in the Philippines.

Posted by: coastlinesproject | April 16, 2017

Saturn’s moon Enceladus could have life around deep sea vents.

Posted by: coastlinesproject | April 15, 2017

Plum Island; Syringes.

Chapter Thirty-Three

A Totally Unfortunate Discovery

April 2, 2017



After taking photographs of the aftermath of winter storm Theseus I decided to lie on the beach to soak up the early April sun. A pair of surfers were riding the brilliant white breakers and a few families were enjoying the beach.


But suddenly a Newbury police officer entered the beach near the refuge and started to walk toward a couple walking two dogs. It was the day after the plover were supposed to arrive, so I figured I was about to witness a dog-walking bust.


But the officer seemed to be more intent on looking for something in the sand. Finally he pulled out some latex gloves and picked a syringe out of the wrackline. I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a picture and thought it was probably just an isolated incident anyway, so I continued to sit back and enjoy the sun.


But when I got home I saw that Walt Thompson had posted a picture of a needle he had taken just north of Newbury’s Center groin. Someone else mentioned that the year before, he had seen the Newbury Fire Marshall with a whole bag of syringes he had collected from Plum Island. And I remembered that when I first moved to Ipswich in 2001 found needles along the shore that I assumed had been from someone with diabetes.


Then on April 3rd I saw an indignant story on New Hampshire television about a Massachusetts group that wanted to string a boom across the Merrimack to prove that thousands of needles were flowing down the river from New Hampshire.


Everyone on our public forum tried to explain these observations based on past experiences. Most of us remembered the summer of 1987, when medical wastes washed up on the Jersey Shore when an unscrupulous company from New York had illegally dumped them off a municipal pier.


So our first assumption was that the needles probably came from people who used them for medical conditions. But this didn’t quite ring true. If a doctor prescribes you syringes for a medical condition he also gives you a plastic container to store the used needles in so you can return them to the hospital for disposal.


Companies have lucrative contracts for the safe disposal of such needles, why would they risk jeopardizing their business by doing something foolhardy like dumping just needles but no other medical wastes into the Merrimack River?


The other former incident that everyone remembered was when the wastewater treatment plant in Hookset New Hampshire had accidently released hundreds of thousands of wafer thin filter discs into the Merrimack. They continue to show up on beaches from Maine to Cape Cod after every storm.


So perhaps the needles came through upstream sewer systems. But why would someone with a medical condition throw them down the toilet when it would be so much easier to keep them in their plastic container?


That left the ugly alternative that perhaps heroin users who had flushed them down their toilets had used these needles. I’m sorry, but I don’t care how stoned you are, you don’t want to be strung out and have your toilet backed up as well.


Nope the unfortunate conclusion was that thousands of needles had been left on streets or in out of the way parks and beaches where people had bought and used drugs. Then storms had washed the needles off the streets and into the river where they had floated half-submerged from places like New Hampshire, Lowell, Lawrence, Haverhill, Amesbury, Newburyport and Newbury down onto the beaches of Plum Island and beyond. It was an unsettling indicator of exactly how widespread and close to home our opioid epidemic had become.




William Sargent is a member of Storm Surge that helps support these articles. His book, Plum Island; 2016, is available in local bookstores and at





Posted by: coastlinesproject | April 14, 2017

Renewables and deep sea mining.

Posted by: coastlinesproject | April 13, 2017

Plum Island, April Fool’s Storm.

Chapter Thirty-Two


A Not Very Funny April Fool’s Storm

April 2, 2017


Vern Ellis got up early on April 2nd. He wanted to see what winter storm Theseus had done to the dunes in front of his Northern Reservation Terrace home.


Theseus had been the exact opposite of winter storm Stella. It sat 800 miles offshore building waves that had become ten-foot high monsters by the time they reached Plum Island. They then pounded the island as the storm dropped first snow, then sleet, then rain.


Nobody had appreciated the lousy April Fool’s joke that caused more erosion but less wind damage than Stella.


Vern saw that the storm had torn another 5 to 10 feet off the dunes but he also saw where waves had washed more sand through the jetty. Now three, acre sized sandbars hugged the riverside of the structure.


The most recent sandbar from Theseus lay stretched along the seaward end of the jetty. The sandbar from Stella lay clumped up in the middle of the jetty while the sandbar left from the February storms had already snaked around the spur of the jetty and was starting to protect the houses on Northern Reservation Terrace. The sandbars weren’t enough to solve the problem but

they were a decent first step until the Corps could act.

But it was what Vern saw that evening at high tide that had concerned him the most. Scores of people were walking on the leading edge of the dune, where the winter storms had deposited almost a foot of new sand.


Spring was normally when the dunegrass would start growing up through the new sand leaving a matrix of roots to bind together the dune below. This is how the front of the dune grows to become the primary dune, nature’s first bulwark against coastal erosion.


However dunegrass dies when people walk on it or make a path through it because sand will slough off the grass onto the path, which kills the grass after a few days of exposure.


When the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation prepared the beach for the summer, it had been limited by two conditions. Another agency, the state’s Natural Heritage office stipulated that the work had to be completed by April 1st when plover were supposed to start nesting. Plus they had to use ropes tied to poles instead of snow fencing that had worked so effectively at keeping people off the dunes the summer before.


This year they would have to use this symbolic fencing so plover could make their way to the beach. The problem was, nobody had ever seen a piping plover on this part of the beach because it had too much vegetation and its scarps were too steep for the birds to clamber up and down them. They liked broad new overwash areas where they could run up and down the beach unencumbered by vegetation and drop-offs.


The other problem was that the symbolic fencing looked just like a ropewalk so people were using it like a handrail as they trampled a path through the most fragile and important keystone species of the dune itself. So you had one state agency fixated on protecting a single species, that wasn’t there, against another state agency trying to protect the habitat that the entire ecosystem depended on.


It was a conundrum that only Bruce Tarr could solve and he would get his chance at the next meeting of the Merrimack River Beach Alliance scheduled for April 21st.




William Sargent is a member of Storm Surge that helps support these articles. His book, Plum Island; 2016, is available in local bookstores and at


















Posted by: coastlinesproject | April 12, 2017

Merrimack River syringes. Horrifying.‘Here-To-Stay’.htm

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