Cape May Beaches: Gorgeous, Welcoming… and Potentially Dangerous
CAPE MAY — This South Jersey city's beaches draw scores of vacationing families every year. But something is happening beneath the breaking waves that is both alarming and concerning.
For many years, there was no beach here, according to Mayor Clarence "Chuck" Lear. In 1991, the Army Corps of Engineers came in and pumped an initial 900,000 cubic yards of sand onto the main beach, with plans to replenish every two years for the next 50 years. But with the replenishment came a drop off caused by the waves. Lear says when the waves come in, they crash, so the drop off is quick and severe.
The severe drop off has created dangerous conditions for surfers and bodysurfers. Last year, there were few injuries, but there have been very serious ones in the past, although no fatalities.
In 2001, Lear says a young man was bodysurfing in Poverty Beach and he broke his neck. It was a severe and permanent injury because of the drop off.
Another South Jersey beach is dealing with a similar situation. North Wildwood has been fighting off a legal challenge by relatives of a man who drowned in 2012 after unstable sand caused by tidal flow collapsed under his feet. Two others also drowned at the beach in 2009.
"We want to monitor this and stay on top of this," Lear says.
On Jan. 1, he created a permanent beach safety committee of residents and families who have been affected by or have an interest in surfs and safety.
He says they continue to look for answers, trying to make it as safe as possible through education. Lear is encouraging the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers to at least study it and see if there is anything they can do in Cape May that can possibly make the beaches as safe as possible.
Beach replenishment is still very vital to Cape May and Lear wants to make sure that program continues.
"We're concerned. We want to hopefully find a solution, but in the end, after all the studies, there may not be a solution to all this," says Lear.
He says the best way to stay educated is to spread the word. Beach safety videos are on YouTube. Brochures are being given out by beach patrols and the beach tag staff during the summer to educate. Signs, warning of heavy shore break, have also been set up at every beach entrance.
While the efforts continue to make Cape May beaches safer, Lear says if you go to Cape May, just be mindful that some of the waves can be tricky. Keep your eyes open and face the water so you're not caught off guard.