Are We Losing Higbee Beach?

Higbee Beach at low tide.

 

Cape May, NJ – If you want to walk on Higbee Beach, you’d best check the tide tables. Hurricane Sandy caused massive erosion, both of the Delaware Bay beach and the dunes. So much so that most of Higbee Beach now disappears at high tide.

Higbee Beach at high tide.

 

On this particular high tide, there was little beach left to walk on.  While Sandy left some stretches of Cape May’s and Cape May Point’s Atlantic Ocean beaches wider than before the storm, the Delaware Bay side was not so lucky.

For millennia, Higbee’s dune forests have protected the western shore of the Cape May peninsula from the vagaries of hurricanes and nor’easters.  This time the dunes took a major battering from Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy’s strong winds drove massive waves into the shoreline. Those waves liquefied the sand and simply washed it away.

At low tide, when the bay recedes,  you can see the channels and rivulets cut by the force of the wind and the waves.

At high tide, there is only the bay.  The water literally laps at the bottoms of trees that were once hundreds of feet from the water.

What is left is a steep bank, trees falling onto the beach, exposed roots of trees and shrubs, and less beach to walk on.

The dune forest at the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area is the last of its kind along the Delaware Bayshore, supporting an abundance of nesting and migrating birds.

Dense forests of holly, red cedar, red oak, bayberry and beach plum hold the sand and soil together, forming a protective dune that rises to more than 20 feet above sea level in places. The dune and its forest have prevented storms from eroding and damaging the larger forests of the wildlife management area, not to mention private properties farther inland. They also protect the biologically significant forests within the wildlife management area.

Some of the trees on the dunes are now uprooted and are ready to be washed away. The dune is beginning to lose its first line of defense against the bay.

At low tide, Higbee looks every bit as beautiful as before the storm.

Still a magnificent, untouched  dune forest edging right up to the water, Higbee appears almost like it did hundreds of years ago, when Henry Hudson sailed up the Delaware Bay.

At high tide, you’d just better bring your boots if you want to take a walk on the sand.

Tide Tables for Future Reference

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About Paul Kerlinger

Paul Kerlinger, Ph.D. is a scientist, author and nationally known expert on bird migration. He's done extensive studies on hawks, Snowy Owls and neotropical song birds. Kerlinger is the former director of the Cape May Bird Observatory, His books include How Birds Migrate and Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks. He's an ardent fly fisherman and organic vegetable gardener.