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Oregon Coast Tempest Coughs Up Wacky Things on Beaches


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Secrets of the Season

Oregon Coast Tempest Coughs Up Wacky Things on Beaches

Mass of sea stars thrown up on beach (photo Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

(Oregon Coast) – As the majority of the Oregon coast pulls out of the dark and out from beneath the downed branches, this week is back to normal for many, and just another week for many more on the central coast who really didn’t receive much grief from the major tempest.

A huge wind and rain storm hit the Oregon coast last week, with gusts around and over 120 miles per hour in places like Bay City, Lincoln City, Cape Meares and on the southern Washington coast. Power was out on the north coast for five to seven days in some spots, while the central coast didn’t have more than 48 hours worth of outages – most places less.

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While the tourism officials are quick to point how the area is “back and open for business,” the post-storm oddities have begun to pop up all around the region, as if to coax the tourists back in with freaky sights. The central coast hasn’t seen much, but the north coast is seeing large amounts of sand erosion, prehistoric forest stumps and a ten-mile stretch of ocean debris that filled with all sorts of weird things – both living and dead.

Weird structures unearthed at Hug Point in early 2007 (photo Tom Horning)

There are some curious nuggets of nature for people to see – not to mention glimpses of damage of a historical nature.

Up at Cape Lookout State Park, some of the heaviest erosion is taking place in the last decade. Like Hug Point, near Cannon Beach, and the beaches just north of Newport, such annual erosion brought on by storms and big surf regularly causes odd structures to appear: stumps from ancient forests that range anywhere from 1000 years old to as much as 80,000 years old. In Neskowin, they’re now there year-round, caused by what many state geologists believe to be an ever-eroding coastline.

Cape Lookout State Park

But in Cape Lookout, the 1000-year-old remnants of what many call a “ghost forest” is practically a yearly occurrence, and this storm is what geomorphologist Jonathon Allan believes was their debut this season.

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“It’s something that regularly re-exposes these,” Allan said.

In Neskowin, the stumps are about 4,000 years old, according to Roger Hart, who works with Allan at the Newport office of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

Last winter, sand levels were scoured to about six to ten feet below normal on the north coast, revealing ancient stumps at Hug Point that Seaside geologist Tom Horning said could be as old as 80,000 years old – although it’s likely they’re around 4,000 years old as well.

Ghost forest at Neskowin makes a surreal scene

Allan said recent surveys of the Oregon coast haven’t shown much that has changed dramatically just yet, but Hart is in the middle of more such surveys.

“That kind of erosion has increased a lot in the last decade,” Allan said.

Just a bit south, the area around Cape Kiwanda has been scoured quite a bit, revealing a darker sand. Dunes and cliffs have been cut into a bit as well.

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“Dune erosion in some places has been 10 feet,” Allan said. “It’s normal to have one to two meters over a season,” Allan said. “And in some winters with bigger sea levels, you get three to four meters.”

Flattened dunegrass in Seaside

In Seaside, the landscape has changed a bit in some interesting ways. Right in front of the Seaside Aquarium, the dune grass is flattened, covered by a thin layer of sand that blew over in last week’s wintry melee. Just south of there, on the other side of the Promenade, the dunes look normal.

Tiffany Boothe, with the aquarium, said erosion has really cut into some of the dunes on the side facing the sea. “You can see the blades of grass beneath the top layer of sand,” she said.

It was Boothe and aquarium manager Keith Chandler who made the most startling and dramatic discovery that has come from the storm, with a ten-mile stretch of sand covered in ocean debris both living and not. The beaches between Gearhart and Warrenton are literally littered with various types of marine life.

Butterfly crab (photo Boothe)

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Boothe said this open tract of sandy beach is usually barren, with the exception of logs, seaweed, and small shells. But now it’s crawling with life.

“The storm seemed to take its toll on the marine life community as well,” Boothe said. “The aquarium crew set out this morning to take a small survey. We counted 275 sunflower stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides), 25 giant pink stars (Pisaster brevispinus), 30 skate egg casings (most of which had already hatched), and tons of giant acorn barnacles (Balanus nubilus).”

Giant acorn barnacles (photo Boothe)

They collected as many specimens as they could on Monday, driving the aquarium’s truck along that stretch, then separating the living from the dead.

“We did recover a few specimens; some larger barnacles, sunflower stars, leather stars (Dermasterias imbricate), and giant pink stars. We don't know if they will live or not; they have gone through quite an ordeal, being picked up off the bottom of the ocean and cast onto the shore.”

Boothe said another amazing find was an umbrella or butterfly crab
(Cryptolithodes typicus), found by Brent Boeman. Although the crab was not alive, its alien-like appearance made it one of the best finds of the day.

Skate embryo found by Boothe

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Along with the numerous sea stars and egg casing were jellyfish, ascidians, various types of sponge, bryozoans, moon snail shells, hermit crabs, cockle clams, tubeworms, Dungeness crabs and black skate egg casings.

“Not very often do you come across a black skate egg casing,” Boothe said. “They are much smaller than the big skate egg casings, and hundreds of giant barnacles both dead and alive.”

Also quite rare was the leather star, which is hardly ever seen above water in this part of the Pacific Ocean.

“It was a beachcomber’s haven,” Boothe said. “All along the tide line were animals you just don't typically see stranded on shore.”

Moon Jelly (photo by Boothe)

On the central coast, there were finds. They simply weren’t as dramatic. “We dodged the bullet in Newport with only temporary or short-term, scattered power outages,” said Newport beach expert Guy Dittorice. “Out in the rural areas and further north saw more damage. They saw a lot more winds too, so more interesting stuff happened up there.”

Immediately after the storms of December 3, DiTorrice took a stroll on the beach during the calm of Tuesday, December 4.

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“Found a couple of commercial crab pot marker floats and some larger driftwood,” he said. “Sand movement off the beaches here is minimal with only high-tide line rock showing. Most of the sand dunes that built up on Agate Beach are pretty well flattened, with Newport's Big Creek making a near direct flow back out to the ocean.”

Sundry debris on the beach (photo Boothe)

Since then, DiTorrice said even that sand displacement seems to have been replaced in the last week.

In some ways, the big storm was a non-event for the Newport area, and still plays out that way. DiTorrice was in the middle of being photographed by VIA Magazine Monday, when the photographer asked him about taking shots of the ancient stumps just north of Newport.

DiTorrice said he pointed him to a barren tract of sand at Moolack Beach.

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Terry Morse, another beach expert in Newport, also had only a little to report. “Nothing major along the stretch of Nye Beach I usually walk,” Morse said. “I did find sea foam, a few sea nettle jellies, and one tubeworm washed up on December 4.”

One of two wave sensor buoys that went missing during the storm was eventually found this week on the Washington coast. Officials worried about those, as the base area containing the battery could explode if too much seawater leaked into it.

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