Ever-changing Lucy

Bob Woodruff
Bob Woodruff holds a photograph of Lucy Vincent Beach from two months ago, demonstrating changes in the topography since then. Photos by Susan Safford

Posted April 19, 2007

The Vineyard Conservation Society sponsored an educational and informative walk on Lucy Vincent Beach in Chilmark this past Saturday. Held in conjunction with 1,000 other events countrywide for Step It Up, a global climate change movement, the walk was guided by three geologists, Bill Wilcox, Charles Ratte, and Craig Saunders, along with coastal ecologist Bob Woodruff. Armed with numerous charts and graphs, Mr. Woodruff described the glacial origins of the Island over a million years ago, and described the dramatic changes in our shoreline over that time.

Craig Saunders
Geologist Craig Saunders describes the make-up of the cliffs, much of it kaolin, or clay. This material holds a lot of water, which keeps it in constant motion and makes it susceptible to erosion.

Recession along the south shore of the Island is occurring at 10 to 11 feet a year at Katama and a more modest 6 to 7 a year on the western edge, along the Wequobsque Cliffs, according to Mr. Woodruff. The only shore on the Island that is actually gaining footage is along Lobsterville Beach, he said. But he cautions not to rush out and buy property there because this low-lying land may soon be submerged by rising seas caused by global warming.

We are daily witnesses to changes at Lucy Vincent Beach. The recent increase in the frequency and intensity of storms has caused considerable erosion of the beach and cliffs, according to Mr. Woodruff. For example, the storm this past Sunday, which blew in from the South, caused more of the cliff face to fall, and sand swept out by the high tides lowered the beach by as much as three feet.