SCARBOROUGH – Officials at Scarborough Beach State Park say it could take two weeks to remove a 3-foot-high wall of rockweed that last weekend’s storm pushed onto the beach, the most the employees have seen in 30 years.

Crews spent the past three days hauling rockweed and other storm debris off the beach, but removed less than half of the pile left by the storm, which dumped more than 8 inches of rain on parts of the state. Wind and runoff from the storm and unusually high tides combined to create heavy surf along the coast.

At Scarborough Beach, the sand on both sides of the access path is filled with great swaths of rockweed, waist-deep in some places and covering an area nearly as large as a football field. Pieces of rope, chunks of wood, buoys and lobster traps are mixed in with the rockweed, making the removal process tedious for park employees.

Rockweed, also known as knotted wrack, is native to the Gulf of Maine, which contains more than 1 million tons of the large marine algae. It accounts for at least 90 percent of all seaweed landings in the state. Statewide, rockweed landings for 2010 totaled 10.7 million pounds and had a value of more than $253,000, according to the Department of Marine Resources.

Harvested rockweed is used in fertilizer, as a soil conditioner and in nutritional food and health items for human consumption.

The focus in Scarborough, however, is clearing it off the beach as soon as possible.

Joey Doane, a lifeguard from Cape Elizabeth, spent Wednesday using a pitchfork to move rockweed from the beach to a trailer with the help of fellow lifeguard Kaycee Stevens and park maintenance supervisor Zach Bergman.

Doane said his father, Joe, has been a lifeguard at the beach for about 30 years.

“He’s never seen seaweed like this,” he said. “It’s a thick wall. It’s heavy after a while.”

Bergman estimates it will take his crew at least two weeks to remove all of the rockweed. Workers are putting loads of seaweed in the nearby woods, but hoping the tide will carry some back to sea, he said.

A lifeguard stand that is completely surrounded by rockweed will be moved down the beach until the cleanup is complete. The process is complicated by the amount of trash mixed in with the rockweed.

“We’re trying to weed out what we can,” Bergman said.

Phyllis Allen of Martinsville, Va., and her 3-year-old granddaughter, Casey Chaney of Scarborough, set up their beach chairs to the east of the pile, in an area that had been cleared of debris. The pile was nearly as tall as Casey, who used a shovel to dig at the edge of the rockweed.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” said Allen, but the seaweed wouldn’t stop her from enjoying her visit. “I’ve got a long way to go to get to the beach” from Virginia, she said.

The appearance of large amounts of rockweed on beaches isn’t unusual after a big storm, particularly in winter and spring, said Linda Mercer, director of the Department of Marine Resources’ Bureau of Resource Management.

When rockweed reproduces in late spring and summer, it is heavier and more likely to break away from the rocks it clings to on the ocean floor. “It’s a natural event,” she said.

The rockweed did little to keep people from walking and playing on the beach Wednesday afternoon. Employees said they have heard many comments from people who were “shocked” at the amount of rockweed.

Wendy Chapkis of Portland and Hugh English of Brooklyn, N.Y., lounged on a lifeguard chair a short distance from the rockweed pile. They were surprised to see how much had washed ashore.

“That’s a big pile of seaweed,” Chapkis said. “I’m pleased to see it being cleaned up.”

Stevens, the lifeguard, said people shouldn’t let the rockweed stop them from visiting the beach.

“There’s still plenty of beach that’s been cleaned,” he said. 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at [email protected]

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