Invasive seaweed fouls Scarborough beach, irks residents

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SCARBOROUGH — The town is fighting an invasion of Asian red algae that covers parts of Pine Point Beach.

Officials said the seaweed cannot be completely cleared because of a conservation easement covering one section of beach.

Algae is cleared from the beach Tuesdays and Fridays, in the early mornings. But with two daily tides, the effort at best produces a standoff.

Driftwood Lane resident Tookie Clifford said this year is the worst because the algae has remained longer than it usually does.

“It’s very depressing and the smell is awful,” Clifford said. “It’s a very offensive smell, especially at low tide.”

The area cleared is from the Pine Point parking lot on Avenue 5 to the Old Orchard Beach line. But a 2,000-foot section remains from the parking lot to the jetty that is protected due to a 1973 conservation easement.

Residents have complained about odor that seeps through the neighborhood, and the town is working toward an agreement with the state to clear the entire swath of beach, Mike Shaw of the Public Works Department said.

Shaw said the underwater topography is responsible for where the algae is deposited along the shore.

Avenue One resident Karen Ansteensen, whose family has lived in the area for several generations, said walking the beach between tides is no longer enjoyable, because the plants stick to your feet and emit an overpowering odor.

She said she has heard tourists saying they may not return to Scarborough again because of the vegetation.

Although the algae been washing ashore for about five years, Ansteensen said this is the worst year yet.

Shaw said the Pillsbury Shores conservation easement doesn’t allow the invasive ocean plant to be completely cleared.

Town Manager Thomas Hall said the easement protects the natural vegetation that mitigates erosion, but the algae has become a problem.

The easement prohibits construction, removal or destruction of shrubs, grass or other vegetation, as well as the excavation, dredging or removal of materials that would affect the surface.

Pillsbury Shores Association President Gerry Gaudette said the town, the state and property owners are working to get the beach cleaned on the other side of the jetty, but it’s a long process.

“The state is being a stickler about it,” he said Aug. 3.

Gaudette said a meeting is expected to be held with state officials this week to further discuss beach cleanup. He said one component includes proving the plant poses a health hazard.

The town has an application under review with the state to allow for a permit to conduct a cleanup, John Bott, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said Monday.

Bott said he was not certain whether the permit would be for one season, or in perpetuity, while Hall said the permit would be in effect for next year.

Hall said the algae was apparently introduced to the local ecosystem about five or six years ago, carried from Asia in the ballast water from ocean-going tankers.

“Curiously, it stops at the Old Orchard Beach line,” Hall said, probably because of water currents.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

Red seaweed covers the beach at Pine Point in Scarborough on Aug. 3. (Dudley Warner / For The Forecaster)

A closer look at the red seaweed that has been fouling Pine Point Beach in Scarborough. (Dudley Warner / For The Forecaster)

 

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