Coastal Restoration at Long Beach: Biomimicry

IMG_6287As a Centerville resident, I am super lucky to live near Craigville and Long Beach. My dog, Hanita, and I walk on beautiful Long Beach every day, even in the winter! Since our arrival back on the Cape in 2010, we have seen the landscape of the beach change, due to storms. Long Beach is a stretch of sandy beach on one side, with the Centerville River running parallel to it on the other side, the marsh side. It’s a long spit of land surrounded by water on both sides, ending where the Centerville River opens up into the ocean. You can see Dowse’s Beach in Osterville on the other side.

As you walk Long Beach and approach its end where river meets ocean, the landscape becomes more narrow, naturally. In 2011, Hurricane Irene washed right up over the narrowest part of it and over into the marsh side, clearing away an abundance of vegetation and flattening it out. “Some day this whole thing will be washed away,” fellow dog walkers lamented.

A few months after this devastation, however, some wooden slats appeared, stuck into the sand and spaced about a foot apart, planted in the entire washed-out area. A sign accompanied the slats, informing beachgoers, “This is a coastal restoration project.” I understood their purpose: the slats would collect the sand around them to start to build it back up again.

Now, four years later, the slats remain, and so does the sand. The area is no longer washed away, but is being restored, thanks to the slats. Indeed, much sand has collected around the slats, and new vegetation (beach grass) has been planted. I decided to call the phone number on the sign to find out more.

I spoke with Gordon Peabody of Safe Harbor, an environmental consulting firm that develops coastal restoration systems, and I learned that the process by which the wooden slats collect and deposit the sand is called biomimicry. With biomimicry, the storm winds, which may be responsible for the erosion in the first place, help to put the sand back onto the washed-out areas. The cedar slats help collect it.

IMG_6286“If we try and manage the energy, the storm will manage itself,” says Peabody about the process. He adds that after going up in a plane above Long Beach, it was clear to him that the storms were taking the sand and depositing it as sand bars. “Instead of putting them (the slats) facing the wind, we turned them sideways, which reduced the profile,” Peabody says of the cedar slats, “the shims have been collecting the sand out of the water. They collect sand from the storm energy, tease the storm a little, and take a little bit of sand.” It manages the energy instead of the mass, he says. “I didn’t move a grain of sand, the wind brought it all in.”

This biomimicry experiment is the result of five previous failures, having begun the process in Truro. Truro has dunes, whereas Long Beach is flat in comparison.  What Peabody and Safe Harbor had been attempting in Truro was to restore the dune at Ballston Beach. He and his team had utilized various strategies when they noticed finally that when all they had left in the sand were the cedar slats, the slats had started to collect the sand. Of the process, he says, “It’s important to find other ways of thinking, of solving problems, and not to be afraid of ‘failure.’ It’s just redirection.”

That redirection sure is working at Long Beach. Cedar slats can be bought at the hardware store in packages of 40 for $3, a pretty minimal investment.

Two shouts out for Gordon Peabody and Safe Harbor Environmental. For further information, please see Safe Harbor’s website:

Freelance Writer PhotoMarina Davalos is a freelance writer and native Cape Codder who lives in Centerville with her dog, Hanita, and her cat, Elsa. She lived on Maui on and off for 15 years and has traveled the world. She can be reached at


  1. carolyn barnes says

    Sandy Neck went from beautiful to terrible in 15 years. So rocky that it hurts your feet even with shoes.

  2. C. Wailgum says

    What a great idea and simple solution to a big problem.

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