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May 20, 2013

Plum Island erosion sandbars stretch toward Essex

PLUM ISLAND — The island’s battle with erosion has dominated the headlines this year.

But as the winter’s ravages recede, another impact of winter storms is becoming visible — enormous new offshore sandbars at the northern and southern end of the island that are bringing changes as far away as in the Essex River and off Gloucester’s Coffin Beach.

The areas off Plum Island have historically been hotspots for sandbars. They grow and recede as sand shifts along the coast.

This summer, as beachgoers and boaters return to the shore, they will find a stunningly altered landscape at the southernmost end of Plum Island, where the offshore sandbar has grown to what some say is unprecedented size.

“It’s enormous,” said Peter Pinciaro, regional manager for the Trustees of Reservations. One of the Trustees’ prime properties, Crane Beach, overlooks the sandbar.

“At low tide, you can really see how much it has expanded,” said Pinciaro, who has been boating in local waters for 25 years and called the size of the sandbars “unprecedented.” Its shape is irregular and its size can only be estimated at perhaps a half mile long.

In the summertime, dozens of boats anchor off the sandbar, and beachgoers spill out onto the sands at low tide. It’s a popular spot — the waters here are warm, and there is usually lots of room to spread out.

For as long as records have been kept, there’s always been a sandbar roughly between Crane Beach and the southern tip of Plum Island. But this year it has become a huge land mass, stretching from the tip of Plum Island into Ipswich Bay, a distance of about a half mile or more. It’s now possible — though not advisable — to wade from the southern tip of Plum Island to the offshore sandbars at low tide.

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