We have a precarious relationship with nature around here. To be sure, it made Cape Cod what it is today, both literally and figuratively; natural processes shaped the Cape – and continue to do so – and nature is also why most of us are here, either calling the place home or stopping by for a short time.
Nature hasn't been kind to us lately, however. Specifically, erosion is once again causing significant changes to the coastline around the Cape. Locally, dozens of feet of bluff along Morris Island have disappeared, forcing the removal of a boardwalk and stairs to the beach at the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. That's going to make it that much more difficult for many people to enjoy nature's wonders along that shoreline. And this week, the erosion forced the closure of the National Weather Service's Upper Air Station, which is just steps away from the edge of the bluff. For more than 50 years, weather data has been gathered at the station, with its recognizable white dome, through the daily release of weather balloons (and as a radar station until 1994). One of 92 upper-air observation stations maintained around the country by the National Weather Service, its closure will create a bit of a data gap, and the agency is actively searching for a new, similarly-situated site.
The erosion at Morris Island is the result of the loss of South Beach precipitated by the Fool's Cut in 2017, itself part of the cyclical evolution of the Nauset barrier beach system. Studies have shown, however, that this process has been impacted – accelerated – by climate change, specifically sea level rise. With so many factors at play in such a dynamic system, it may not be possible to pin the loss of the Weather Station on climate change, but, as one reader recently pointed out, it sure seems ironic.
Also ironic, in a way, are the findings of a study that indicate great white sharks spend almost half of their time in Cape waters 15 feet or less in depth. That is, of course, where most people swim. It's ironic because for many, especially seasonal visitors, the ocean is the main draw of the Cape. Now we know that it may not be that safe, at least along the Cape's east-facing beaches where white sharks are prevalent. Shark scientists and researchers have been sounding this call for years now, but this study offers confirmation in stark terms: If you swim along the outer beaches, half the time you are very likely swimming with sharks. And as we know from the four shark attacks that have occurred in those waters in recent years, nature is both random and harsh. Hopefully, beach managers, town and National Seashore officials will use this information to step up warnings at popular beaches and more widely disseminate shark safe information.
Perhaps the lesson here is don't get in nature's way. You may dodge a bullet – or a shark, or a storm-driven wave – but when nature and man intersect – which, ironically, is inevitable – only one wins.