Rethinking beaches

Local naturalist Neal Maine provides a new look at the shoreline.

Naturalist Neal Maine wants to raise awareness about ‘amazing phenomenon’

By Lyra Fontaine

EO Media Group

Many use Oregon’s sandy shores for recreational fun in the sun, and there’s nothing wrong with that, local naturalist and nature photographer Neal Maine said in his April 13 lecture, “Beaches: More than Sand.”

With the increase in visitors, Maine said a greater understanding of lively ecological processes and “the wonder of this amazing phenomenon” happening on beaches is needed.

He wants to change public perception of Oregon’s beaches, which were made accessible to the public, protected from private development and administered as a state recreation area in 1967.

“We’re trying to recast the beaches of Oregon as ecosystems, not just playgrounds,” Maine said to a rapt audience gathered in the Cannon Beach Chamber Hall as part of the city’s “12 Days of Earth Day” events.

With his late wife, Karen, Maine started the Haystack Rock Awareness Program, which began an official program in 1985. Last year, the program celebrated 30 years of educating visitors about the iconic rock.

Now, Maine hopes to help develop a strategic campaign called “Beaches are Alive” to raise public awareness about beach ecology. For example, instead of showing visitors how to clam, state parks could provide lessons about beach ecology, Maine said.

He invited the audience to send “ideas, observations and inspiration” for the possible program this spring.

As Maine demonstrated with photos and animated dialogue, beaches are living systems home to a wide variety of creatures, including mole crabs, clams, tiny invertebrates, kelp, birds and more. Beaches are unique in that they are influenced by external input sources, like material from the ocean.

“The richer your awareness about the environment and how it works,” he said, “then the higher the quality of life.”

Maine displayed photos of some beach-dwelling creatures, including Velella velellas, an example of “population explosion.”

“You’ve seen more than you’ve ever wanted to see,” he said.

Meanwhile, razor clams, with their quick burrowing into the sand, are an example of biological specialization. “They have evolved for that specific habitat.”

Maine showed photos of gulls “dancing” for their food. He said delicate, specialized birds may be affected by human modifications to the beach.

What may look like an oil spill on shores — a brown, oily substance with frothy bubbles — is indeed oil released from photosynthesizing algae called diatoms.

“They’re a huge source of solar conversion,” Maine said, adding that the substance was made up of “good oil.”

Microplastics are one concern for beach environments.

“This year there was the greatest distribution of microplastics I’ve ever seen,” Maine said, adding that he has seen an “incredible volume” of plastic debris, which can be ingested by sea animals. “These become sponges for chemical structures in ocean water so we get concentrated chemical material in these particles.”

Maine suggested beach cleanups be combined with “Beaches are Alive” education. Keeping beaches free from trash is a benefit for both coastal residents and visitors.

“So many people go to the beach and walk and find that solace and atmosphere that they need,” Maine said. “You can try to put some of that in the bank, because June will be here soon.”=

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