A day at the beach isn’t what it used to be. That’s because 80 to 90 percent of the nation’s 10,000 miles of coastline is literally washing back into the sea, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A day at the beach isn’t what it used to be. That’s because 80 to 90 percent of the nation’s 10,000 miles of coastline is literally washing back into the sea, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Beaches from Hull to Plymouth have been eroding for years.

The problem shows no sign of abating: Some weather experts say climate change will continue to exacerbate the uptick in sea levels and contribute to pounding storms that eat away at the shore.

“It’s a huge issue for us,” said Anne Herbst, Hull’s conservation administrator. “We are trying to be better prepared.”

Individuals, town leaders and state officials are taking steps to keep the process at bay. The many local anti-erosion efforts have included the planting of beach grass in Hull and the creation of makeshift sea walls in Plymouth.

In some cases, it’s a race against time. For example, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution report found that the northern part of Humarock Beach in Scituate eroded at a rate of about 2 feet annually from 1950 to 1998. An Army Corps of Engineers study done in 1994 estimated that 74 homes could be lost to the ocean in 50 years if erosion continued at the same rate.

“This scenario is going to be affected by global climate change,” said Bruce Carlisle, a spokesman for the state Office of Coastal Zone Management. “Sea level is rising, and scientists think this is going to continue.”

Through its StormSmart Coasts program, the state is helping communities up and down the South Shore prepare for the damage caused by hurricanes, nor’easters and other storms, and for subtler effects of climate change.

Kingston is one of the luckier towns, with its fairly small amount of coastline protected by Duxbury and Plymouth’s barrier beaches. For now, the town is concentrating on making sure people understand the bigger story – and what they can do, Conservation Agent Maureen Thomas said.

“Our focus has really been on public outreach and education,” she said, noting that she has sent flood-hazard brochures to residents, real estate agents and insurance companies.

Kingston contrasts sharply with Cedarville, which has the highest erosion rate in Plymouth. Storms can be devastating in Cedarville, taking out chunks of shoreline each time.

“It definitely a concern,” said Elizabeth Sullivan, Plymouth’s conservation planner. “You have seen dramatic impacts after a nor’easter.”

Duxbury Beach, a 6-mile-long barrier beach that extends from Marshfield in the north to Gurnet Point and Saquish (part of Plymouth) in the south, is likewise under fire. Margaret Kearney, head of the nonprofit Duxbury Beach Reservation Inc., said her group has been able to minimize erosion by planting vegetation in dunes.

“The idea is to strengthen the back beach so it will hold materials when we have a wash over from the front beach,” Kearney said.

Elaine Nudd, a year-round resident of the Gurnet peninsula since 1980, said local residents also have constructed sea walls to reduce the effects of the high tides and waves that contribute to erosion.

“It’s been an ongoing battle,” she said.

Patriot Ledger writer Dennis Tatz may be reached at dtatz@ledger.com.

Explaining beach erosion

What causes shorelines to change? A number of factors can cause coastlines to change. They include strong winds, big waves, tides and rising sea levels. When shorelines lessen over a long time period, it’s erosion; when a beach gets bigger, it’s accretion.

When is erosion most likely to occur? Erosion is most common in the winter, when storm waves – including those driven by nor’easters – tend to be the strongest. Accretion is most likely in the summer.

Still, while big storms earn the headlines – and cause the most drastic changes in the shoreline – erosion and accretion happen daily, with wind, waves and currents.

How can erosion affect man-made structures, processes and more? When a shoreline erodes, it imperils homes and other structures. In addition, septic systems and sewers might be exposed, trash may be swept away, and gas, oil and other toxins could be released, potentially causing a host of problems.

Do authorities want to stop erosion? Not necessarily, since erosion is a natural process. Still, efforts are being made to control and understand it to preserve the shore long-term, protect developments, safeguard the environment and ensure public health and safety.

Source: State Office of Coastal Zone Management