Friday March 15, 2013 | 08:42 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

When last week’s nor’easter finally blew itself out to sea, it left behind a vastly changed shoreline up and down Maine’s coast.

The huge waves and high tides peeled back countless tons of sand and gravel, revealing things long buried.

The Press Herald ran the story of the 18th-19th Century sloop exposed at Short Sands Beach in York.

Unreported in the article* was another shipwreck exposed at Kennebunk’s Mother’s Beach:

This hull is believed to be that of the Industry, wrecked at Kennebunk way back in 1770! It last came to light in early 2010.

Old shipwrecks are cool, and predictable at a shore. What you might not expect is to see the root system of an ancient forest!

This phenomenal photo, taken at Kennebunk’s Gooch Beach, comes from the “Southern Maine Old News” FaceBook page.

This tree is part of a “drowned forest.” One of many along Maine’s modern seashore.

We have this way of thinking that how the world looks today is how it’s always looked. Nothing could be further from the truth. Especially our coasts. Coastlines are always on the move. Thousands of years ago Maine’s coastline was much farther out to sea than it is now. Stumps at Wells Beach, exposed in 1955, were radiocarbon dated at 3,000 years in age!

(Great photos & stories of ancient Maine coastal forests at the Maine Geological Survey website.)

But coastal change isn’t just an ancient thing. It’s of course happening today, and accelerating with a rapidly rising sea. Here is Ferry Beach in Scarborough:

The lush living forest lies just behind the beach. These sad remains may have been living trees on dry land just a century ago. (This photo is found at Maine Climate News, a terrific resource for understanding the changes along Maine’s seacoast.)

I visited another Ferry Beach, Saco’s, after a violent no-name storm blew through in June 2012, and found this:

This tree had been a living, growing pitch pine within living memory. Its sawed-off remains now sat some 20 feet shoreward of the bluff. June’s storm carved back that bluff at least another 2-3 feet.

Our coastline is forever changing, and amazing stories lie under the sands. Sometimes it takes a wild storm to bring those stories back to light.

So tell me, what have you discovered at your beach?


* Originally this just read "Unreported." An astute reader rightly nudged me that I should clarify.

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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