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The Mast-Head: Rudimentary Measures

Wed, 01/10/2024 - 17:01

I don’t remember exactly how we did it; it was a long time ago, about 1980, when Tony Minardi, head of the science department at East Hampton High School, started a program of students measuring the ocean beach. Back then, it was just about the only attempt to measure the season-by-season movement of sand here.

There were two parts to Tony’s years-long study. One was keeping a close record of the size, direction, and timing of waves. I had this job for a time and drove to Main Beach daily to take the observations. My friend Geoff took over later on. The main work began every month or so with groups of students riding on a school bus to the beach with sets of basic, wood measuring sticks that Tony designed.

Early on, he had placed markers at intervals in the dunes — and bulkheads — east and west of Main Beach. We students would revisit these in small teams to record the length and angle of the beach down to the water. The data we gathered provided 12-month pictures of the slope of the sand, putting numbers in feet and inches on their annual cycles of narrowing and lengthening. Heck if I can say if anyone has done anything like this since then.

I am continually struck by how few attempts there have been at real-world data collection regarding the beaches here. This is despite millions in government spending, as well as costly, unproven mandates on individual property owners. The town and county programs mandating expensive nitrogen-reducing wastewater systems is where real money is at stake. Despite a requirement that nearly all new construction include the systems, there was no baseline study of nitrogen levels from which the effectiveness of the requirements could be evaluated.

As with Tony’s project, a handful of related studies has been conceived and run outside of government. Among these is the excellent water bacteria work done by the Concerned Citizens of Montauk and the Surfrider Foundation’s local chapter. An ad-hoc group of residents studied mosquitoes at Accabonac Harbor. The privately run Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation has paid for most of the sampling done there. Supposedly the state also takes water samples here and there, but as far as I know, that work has not really filtered back to local policy makers.

In this regard, the East End is still where it was in 1980, when Tony took his students to the beach. Data? What data? Someone else will do that — or not.

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