Climate Watch: Erosion Eating Up Our Beaches

Towns have plan, but action has yet to begin as climate change continues


Campbell photo

At Salisbury Beach, broken fences and eroded dunes are seen often in front of the beachfront homes.

As you may have noticed the beaches on Plum Island and Salisbury have been looking a little different over the past few years. 

The dunes used to be tall, bright green, and healthy, covered with living plants but ever since erosion has become a major concern, the dunes have become weaker, more are dying and most have lost their color causing more deterioration for the houses on the beach. The water rising higher and higher up the beach due to climate change is causing the tides to change drastically and cause beach and structural damage. 

Not only are the ecosystems being affected by the beach erosion but the residents and council of these towns are all being affected as well. 

“As the beach creeps more and more up and the water is coming more close up, it becomes more and more of a concern,” said Erin Dempsey a THS English teacher and a Plum Island resident. 


The dune’s job is to be a safe place for organisms and prevention against structural damage but each year they become worse and worse at this extremely important job because of these changing tides. 

According to the Newburyport/Plum Island Beach Management committee, the “Erosion Rate (along the beach) varies 50 to 100 feet of dune retreat over last 5 to 10 years (in some areas.)”


Because of this recurring issue, Newburyport  Mayor Donna Holaday, former Newbury Police Chief Michael Reilly, and the Newburyport City Council have worked together to draw up some ideas for a prevention plan. The plan has not been put into effect yet.

“We are actively working to reduce the immediate challenges posed by expected tides and are eager to begin work to conduct long-overdue dredging that will hopefully serve as a longer-term solution,” Holaday said in a recent statement to the city.

Not only is the erosion destroying the dunes and the sandbags holding up the fencing around the dunes, but the higher the water rises up the beach the closer it gets to beachfront homes.

“I’m worried that the water will rise so high that someday even the houses that aren’t beachfront will be damaged,” said Abby Richard a Salisbury Beach Resident. 

 To help protect peoples homes the Plum Island Management team has some plan recommendations, which include: “restructuring current beach cleaning practices to be conducted prior to the start of the shorebird nesting season (April 1) and to re-use wrack for dune stabilization and shorebird foraging, and Establish dune maintenance practices for installation of snow fence, plantings, signage, etc.”

These plans when in effect will be beneficial for the town but as new developments unfold the residents are having to pitch in as well. For the residents of the beach, the cost of flood insurance on the Island has gone up drastically over the past few years, and Dempsey has also found more issues living on the Island.

“Flood insurance is a cost, and then I do find that on the island because more saltwater and wind, there is a lot of internet problems because the saltwater eats away at the lines. So that is something they are constantly fixing over there.” Said Dempsey.

After all that it may confuse people why residents stay in the area and don’t move to other locations? The reason is that people truly love the beach and are willing to face the challenges just to experience living close to the environment.

Dempsey plans to live on Plum Island for a long time but not forever and the Plum Island team against erosion will continue their efforts to make Plum Island a safe beach for all.