Climate Impacts on the Good Harbor Beach Ecosystem

Climate Impacts on the GoodHarbor Beach Ecosystem

Summary of Climate Impacts on the Good Harbor Beach Ecosystem

A workshop/webinar

October 26, 2022

TownGreen hosted its first community workshop/webinar for local engagement on issues of climate change on Wednesday, October 26, 2022, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm over Zoom. The pilot program focused on Climate Impacts on the Good Harbor Beach Ecosystem (GHBE) and was the first of three workshops/webinars on the GHBE. In this one, we discussed the history of this local area, the current condition of the ecosystem, and future threats from climate-change-induced sea level rise (SLR) and storms.

Approximately, 75 people attended and participated in two breakout sessions consisting of approximately 15 groups with five people per group. This event was followed by a field trip to Good Harbor beach and salt marsh the next day that allowed people to see the ecosystem up close while discussing changes that are already happening. The field trip was a collaborative effort hosted by TownGreen and led by Alison Frye, the Associate Director at the Salem Sound Coastwatch, and Denton Crews of Friends of Good Harbor (FOGH).

The moderator for the evening was Maureen Aylward, Executive Director of TownGreen. The event began with a welcoming statement by founder and President of TownGreen’s Board of Directors, Dick Prouty. We then were taken on a drone flyover of the salt marsh, beach, and Salt Island that was generously provided to TownGreen by James MacDougall of Topsfield, MA. Local resident, Mary Ellen Lepionka, an independent scholar researching the indigenous history of Essex County, then gave a fascinating cultural history of Good Harbor Beach, Salt Island, and the surrounding area. Her presentation began with the geologic history of Good Harbor, and then described the lives of the Pawtucket or Agawam people who lived on “Little Good Harbor River”. She then documented the arrival of the European settlers and the development of the “saltworks” on Salt Island producing salt for the fisheries in the 1600 and 1700s. Mary Ellen’s presentation brings us through the 20th century at Good Harbor and it is worth viewing.

Denton Crews of FOGH presented information on the Salt Marsh behind Good Harbor Beach. He described FOGH as an organization that “supports the preservation and enhancement of the beach, marsh and wetlands surrounding Good Harbor” through natural preservation, beach enhancement, the Thatcher Road walkway, marsh stewardship, and public information. He then described the current condition of Good Harbor from multiple studies as “impaired” and pointed out several areas of marsh restoration that have been identified. Denton finished his presentation with opportunities for preservation and enhancement including restoring impounded areas, enforcing ordinances, removing barriers to natural hydrology and sediment supply, and providing areas for marsh migration. The establishment of a “Good Harbor Conservancy” would provide a mechanism for the comprehensive conservation of the ecosystem. Finally, Denton envisions a partnership between TownGreen as a catalyst and a Pilot Site Entity (community organization) to make the adaptation changes needed at a local level.

After the first breakout group meeting, the presentations focused on the future of the GHBE with climate change, SLR, and large storms. Jayne Knott, Vice President of the TownGreen board and founder of HydroPredictions, described how our healthy natural systems are resilient to changes in sea level up to a point. For example, healthy salt marshes can keep pace with SLR up to 5 mm/yr.; however, it is likely that sea levels will rise 13 mm/yr. by mid-century and 18 to 20 mm/yr. toward the end of the century resulting in the drowning of the salt marsh if it cannot migrate inland. She then showed a bird’s eye view of the area with 1 to 8 feet of SLR and explained that sea level is the baseline for storm surge. It is likely that the GHBE will experience 2 feet of SLR by mid-century which will flood the beach parking lot regularly at high tide. With an additional 2 feet of storm surge, both Witham Street and portions of Thatcher Road will be flooded. Toward the end of the century, these roads, the Stop & Shop Plaza, and surrounding areas will all be flooded regularly at high tide without storm surge. Ultimately Brier Neck will become an island with the closest point of access to the mainland near Long Beach Dairy Maid through Starknaught Heights. Jayne also pointed out that in addition to surface-water flooding, groundwater will rise with SLR resulting in premature failure of coastal roads and underground infrastructure, and water quality degradation.

Professor Charles Waldheim and Kira Clingen from the Harvard School of Design wrapped up the evening with simulations of a hypothetical hurricane passing through Massachusetts in the year 2038. This work helps the community visualize damage that may occur when a hurricane comes our way on top of higher tides caused by SLR. Serious erosion to the beach and dunes was discussed and Stop & Shop Plaza will not only flood, but significant damage to the buildings will occur. Good Harbor Beach is one of 27 different places in the greater Cape Ann area that the Harvard Study evaluated. The complete report of the Big Storm and some Near Future Adaptations is available on the TownGreen website. We recommend that you review this material before the next Workshop/Webinar.

In the second workshop/webinar, we will identify and discuss adaptation strategies in both the short and long term. The discussion will include:

  • Nature-based solutions
  • Infrastructure and engineering solutions
  • Practical priorities for adaptation/accommodation
  • Local and municipal action

This workshop/webinar will be held on November 30, 2022, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm via Zoom. It will be followed by another visit to Good Harbor Beach during the astronomical high tide on January 23, 2023, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm.

The third and final workshop is to be scheduled for Spring 2023 and will focus on community involvement and the implementation of realistic adaptation options.

Special Guests

Charles Waldheim, John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture andDirector of the Office for Urbanization, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Jayne Knott, Principal, HydroPredictions

Denton Crews, member, Friends of Good Harbor

Good Harbor field trip on October 27th, 2022

Alison Frye, Associate Director of Salem Sound Coastwatch Good Harbor field trip on October 27th, 2022 Good Harbor field trip on October 27th, 2022 Good Harbor field trip on October 27th, 2022

Next Webinar: November 30th!