Jamie and Patrick Acord were at Popham Beach State Park on Saturday evening, heading for the parking lot after spending a few hours strolling barefoot in the surf and looking for sand dollars.

They were on the stretch of sand along Morse Point at peak high tide. Dozens of beachgoers were nearby. As the couple discussed dinner plans, their conversation abruptly stopped.

“All of a sudden I was hip deep in a wet slurry of sand,” Jamie Acord said. “I couldn’t feel the bottom and I couldn’t get a footing.”

Jamie Acord with her husband, Patrick, at Popham Beach on Saturday, when she sank up to her knees in a pocket of supersaturated sand, or quicksand. It was a frightening experience, but scientists say it’s not possible for a person to fully sink in quicksand. Photo courtesy Patrick Acord

Her husband noticed she was no longer by his side and turned around. At first he thought she was kneeling. She told him she couldn’t get out.

“He pulled me out like you’d pick up a toddler off the floor,” said Acord, 47, who lives in Poland. “I turned around and the hole was gone. I looked down and my shorts were covered with muddy sand. I was like, ‘What just happened?’ ”

Acord had stepped into a pocket of supersaturated sand or quicksand – a common occurrence for millennia wherever the shifting flow of rivers and ocean tides can impact beach stability, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.


She shared her experience on social media, raising concern about the safety of Maine’s busiest state park beach, which draws more than 225,000 visitors annually and has both park rangers and lifeguards.

But while state officials say these pockets of super wet sand are more startling than life-threatening, park rangers were set to install warning signs Wednesday that will tell beachgoers what to do if they step in one.

Members of the Howry family of Berlin, New Hampshire, walk on Popham Beach State Park after storms had passed on Wednesday when park rangers were set to install warning signs telling beachgoers what to do if they step in a pocket of supersaturated sand.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“It’s nothing new, but it can be a scary situation for a visitor,” said Jim Britt, bureau spokesman. “You’ll sink in, but you can remove yourself if you relax and work yourself out of it.”

Repeated scientific studies have shown that people cannot fully sink in quicksand because it’s denser than the human body, so the upper torso will remain buoyant at the surface.

Britt said instances of supersaturated sand are linked to erosion that’s happening up and down the Maine coast.

“It can happen anywhere there’s constant water moving in and out,” Britt said. “Going to the beach is not a risk-free scenario.”


Acord said park rangers told her that recent flooding and erosion related to the shifting flow of the Morse River are causing people to struggle more and get stuck in quicksand. Britt, however, said he was not aware of increased reports of quicksand.

These areas of super wet sand technically aren’t sink holes, although some people use that term, said Peter Slovinsky, a marine geologist with the Maine Geological Survey.

He stepped in supersaturated sand once at Ogunquit Beach, near the Ogunquit River, he said. A friend helped him get free.

“I was fly-fishing and suddenly I was sinking up to my knees, so I understand it can be a startling experience,” Slovinsky said. “It’s pretty common to have this happen near river banks, river mouths and wherever tides wash in and out and rivers swing back and forth.”

The powerful movement of water can leave behind sand deposits with pockets that are 50% to 70% water, compared to 25% to 30% for compacted sand, he said.

“It’s almost liquefied sand,” Slovinsky said. “The mouth of the Morse River is a great place for this because it’s constantly shifting and flowing beneath the beach as well.”



It’s impossible to predict exactly where supersaturated sand will appear, but it’s common around the world in places that have dynamic coastlines, he said.

“I wouldn’t expect it to be in the same spot,” he said. “Sand is inherently unstable.”

Regarding whether quicksand on Popham Beach might swallow a person whole, Slovinsky said that really can’t happen. Moreover, he said, a small child won’t sink as deeply as an adult.

“The larger the person, the quicker (and deeper) they’re going to sink,” he said.

If a person does step into supersaturated sand, Slovinsky suggested staying calm, leaning forward or backward onto firmer sand and wiggling your legs slightly as you pull them out.


That advice would be some comfort to Jamie Acord, a mother of four who works in tech support for TD Bank. She has visited Popham Beach several times a year since she was a child.

She had never seen or stepped in quicksand before last weekend, she said. No hole was visible before she stepped in it and no hole was apparent afterward.

Acord posted about her experience on social media because she thought others should know. Commenters expressed shock and concern. She worries what might happen if a child or elderly person steps in quicksand.

“That would be terrifying,” she said. “It’s funny to me now, but it was surreal at the time and I was confused as to what happened. I’m just glad I wasn’t alone.”

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