Dredging At Poppy Spit

Piping from the dredging of the Popponesset Channel stretches across the beach at Popponesset Spit.

Mankind has come in for a lot of well-deserved drubbing over its continuing and worsening effects on the environment—effects that are growing so dire that the long-term viability of the Earth to support the continued existence of mankind is growing more and more tenuous.

But nature is quite capable of making changes on its own, contrary to the interests of people in a given area.

Consider nature’s well-documented ongoing interest in breaching the barrier beach called Popponesset Spit.

Nature isn’t out to get the people who live along the shore of Popponesset Bay north of the spit.

Instead, nature is just doing what it naturally does: creating barrier beaches, moving them around, extending them, shortening them, breaching them. Ocean currents, wind and storms are its tools.

It just so happens that people, drawn to the beauty of the bay and its shoreline, have built houses along that shore.

A breach of the spit would threaten those houses and turn the now-protected waters of the bay more turbulent.

A breach also would interfere with the navigation channel just north of the spit: a change with implications for the flushing that allows nitrogen-impaired water from the bay to exchange with non-impaired water from Nantucket Sound.

That flushing is needed: Popponesset Bay is one of the most nitrogen-impaired bodies of water in southeastern Massachusetts, a region with more than a few such water bodies.

But a nonprofit organization, Save Popponesset Bay, which owns about two-thirds of the spit, has stepped to the fore.

The organization has trucked in thousands of cubic yards of sand to build up the spit, and worked with the Town of Mashpee to deposit sand from the dredging of the Popponesset Bay channel onto the spit.

Save Popponesset Bay also has planted dune grass along the beach, a way to anchor the sand in the spit.

The intervention has been crucial. As of 2014 the spit was moving in toward the bay, according to the Woods Hole Group, environmental consultants hired by the nonprofit organization.

The group deemed the spit to be in crisis, according to Michael Oleksak, president of Save Popponesset Bay.

But thanks to the intervention, the movement now has stopped, Mr. Oleksak said.

The nonprofit organization now is looking forward to the next phase of the project: widening and deepening the existing navigation channel, which, in turn, will generate more sand that can be used to strengthen the spit. That phase may receive the necessary permits within the next two years.

The spit looms large not only to the Popponesset Bay homeowners and boaters, but to the town as a whole. The crucial role that the spit plays in protecting the town’s coast was identified in the recent municipal vulnerability study published by the Town of Mashpee.

A member of Save Popponesset Bay, John Malloy, represented the organization as a participant in the compilation of the report.

“At the end of the day, the spit is a barrier beach. So what we’re trying to do is rebuild the spit, so it’s in a much better position to withstand the effects of climate change, to live through the effects of a hurricane,” Mr. Malloy has said.

“Nobody wants the spit to go away,” he said. “We need a barrier beach to protect the homes, to protect the bay.”

Human intervention in the environment is not necessarily a bad thing. While we affect nature by default, we can also seek to live in harmony with it.

Nature, which is working to reshape and shift a multitude of barrier beaches around the world, likely will not be thrown too far out of whack by the judicious stabilizing of Popponesset Spit.

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