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Storms Take Out Massive Chunks of Oregon Coast Dunes, Some Dangerous

Published 02/07/21 at 7:06 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Storms Take Out Massive Chunks of Oregon Coast Dunes, Some Dangerous

(Oregon Coast) – This winter has been a remarkable one for winter storm action on the Oregon coast, especially into late January, where three King Tides events took their toll on beach dunes. In many areas, dune layouts are practically unrecognizable, with the ocean having sliced away as much as ten feet vertically and more horizontally. (Above: Manzanita, taken by Barb Gould, courtesy Explore Manzanita)

It's awe-inspiring but it's also cause for more caution.

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Oregon’s CoastWatch group has made the most detailed documentation of all this, as volunteers head out to whatever beach they’ve “adopted” to keep an eye on things. This winter, volunteers got an eyeful, to be sure.

Sometimes eight or ten feet are gone from where the dune usually gently slopes down to the beach, resulting in many areas that are now dangerous. Many visitor centers have issued cautions or warnings, telling beachgoers to be careful about playing on high dunes above the beaches. It’s easy for someone – especially kids – to go bounding over the dunes towards the beach, and then suddenly finding there’s a sudden drop. It's often not possible to see the abrupt edges as you come over a dune.

In Manzanita, CoastWatch volunteer C Pendergrass said this is the highest the dunes have been lopped off in the seven years they’ve been keeping up on the beaches. They categorized these enormous cuts as “severe,” and Manzanita is one of the more dramatically-altered places on the coast.

“They are currently unscalable in many areas,” Pendergrass said. “In places, the water was able to get behind the foredune area and swept the foredune away leaving only a few tussocks of dune grass strewn about.”

Down on the south coast at Bandon, at Devil’s Kitchen and Haystack Rock, the CoastWatch volunteer who goes by the handle “T Bowspencer” noted some heavy dune erosion there. You can see about four to five feet of a drop-off where those dunes largely sloped down to the beach from where the cutoff points are on top now. (Photo at bottom)

On the central Oregon coast, at Driftwood Beach near Waldport, CoastWatcher Nancy Thomas snapped some remarkable changes, saying there is much more open beach now. (Photo at bottom)

Manzanita: photo courtesy C Pendergrass / CoastWatch

“Visible retreat of solid bluff beach area expanded, area flattened, dunes carved out and some washed out,” she said.

Thomas, like other CoastWatch observers, noted the cut-away sections of these dunes are now attracting unsightly graffiti.

At Gleneden Beach, the CoastWatcher who goes by the name “Streets” had some of the more alarming changes of Oregon coast beaches. A large chunk of a bluff has fallen apart on the northern end, near the Salishan community. Then there’s the spooky erosion of the bluff at the World Mark facility that seems to be showing plumbing of some kind. (Photo at bottom)

“Large vertical pipes, metal rods, even what looks like a large auger, have been embedded in the soil for probably years, and are now being exposed,” Streets said.

It's likely some of these bluffs won't replenish themselves completely - and some not at all. Although shifting sands from above may cover these gaps again and give the impression of being reinstated. Summer's higher sand levels may add to the lost sand, however. (See more photos at bottom)

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Driftwood Beach near Waldport / CoastWatcher Nancy Thomas

Devils KItchen, Bandon /Courtesy T Bowspencer

Gleneden Beach erosion exposes pipes / Courtesy CoastWatcher Streets

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