Witness to disturbing change in Rehoboth

August 1, 2014

At last we see a lucid and meaningful discussion of the validity of ocean outfall as a solution to Rehoboth’s wastewater problem. Quoting Prof. Ullman: “Fortunately, {the} decision is consistent with the recommendation made on the basis of environmental criteria.” Further: “Fact: Beach contamination is a stormwater, not a wastewater issue.

The beaches that have had high microbial levels in Rehoboth Beach are not near any source of municipal or domestic wastewater. The high bacterial levels reported in the NRDC report are due to people, animals and stormwater management. [Stormwater} is an independent problem that requires resolution but not one associated with current or future wastewater disposal”].

The brackets indicate my wish to pursue the people and animal’ contamination of the beach for which, in reality, there are no reasonable solutions. The beach has been a principal attraction from the very beginning of the settlement and remains as such to this moment. The amenities associated with the beach have added immensely to its popularity to which the crowds are full witness.

The crowds are the “life’s blood” of the city. In the increased crowding of the beach lies the contamination of the sand, the surf and the immediate margin of the ocean. During my time here I have witnessed the changes in the beach.

My first visit to Rehoboth Beach was in 1963 out of curiosity to see the damages suffered from the storm of 1962 that so badly ravaged the area. It was not until the summers of 1966 and 1967 that I returned to the area, but then to a rental in Dewey Beach. Of course Rehoboth was then the place to go for more entertainment.

I met my lifetime companion and Rehoboth became the center to which I escaped from the concerns of life in D.C. Every weekend and holidays were at the beach where over the years I witnessed the gradual, natural changes there due to increasing numbers of people.

At the beginning I was amused to see the abundance of coquinas, the small clams sometimes called sunset shells as suggested by the radiating bands of pink, gold or purple hue. They burrowed in the sand just at wave level where the receding wave would wash away some of the enclosing sand. The clam would quickly bury itself until struck by the next wave. The numbers were countless and their frantic movements to rebury themselves in the sand was a jumbling circus.

Now they are gone from the scene, over the full extent of the beach. The ever increasing hordes of beachgoers incessantly waded over and disrupted the sites where the clams once thrived. Another factor in their disappearance was probably due to contamination of the surf with films of suntan oils derived from the bodies of hundreds of bathers. The bubbles of “sea foam” were often nearly opaque from the residue of oil and entrapped plankton. The clams were “filter feeders” relying upon plankton and other food matter for their existence. A saddening witness to a local extinction.

Another extinction at the beach occurred with the disappearance of the little mole crabs that once could be seen as wave action would reveal hundreds upon hundreds of them as they scrambled to regain their positions in the sand. Their positions could be seen as the wave would recede and expose their long feather-like antennae protruding from the sand. There would be tens of square feet of beach on which you could witness this showing of hundreds of the little crustaceans. They are gone for the same reason the coquinas are no longer at the beach.

Sand Hoppers bounding along the edge of a receding wave are not so often seen. Where have they gone; are they gone? If so, have the little birds moved away too, those that would wander about with their bills in the wet sand searching for such sweet Hopper morsels

What a scene, thousands of oiled bodies on the sand or thrashing the waves, or parading along the edges of the surf, a beach contamination? Is it perhaps, possibly, probably the rapid expansion of a population? What organism does not have such a problem?

Francis M. Hueber
Rehoboth Beach

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