There are many wonderful and interesting beaches on Cape Cod. In fact, the Cape’s economy is largely dependent on its coastal resources from tourism to fishing. For those of us who live here, we all have a few special places that have great meaning. We may have had a unique and personal experience with these special places. One of my favorites is Dowses Beach in Osterville, a small barrier beach system surrounded by Nantucket Sound on one side and East Bay on the other.
I always take my Cape Cod Community College students on their first field trip to this lovely beach. From a coastal ecology point of view the area is interesting because it can be divided into a series of interdependent mini habitats. Collectively they compose the area we call Dowses, but each one can be studied for its own unique assemblage of plants and animals, as well as specific physical characteristics.
I start off with the small dune system dividing both sides of the parking lot. There are several species here including beach grass, seaside rose, dusty miller, beach pea, seaside goldenrod, and wormwood. Small mammals, insects, and birds congregate here. And it’s the favorite habitat of the dreaded deer tick. You can observe some small unvegetated and open areas of the dune called “blow-outs” where the wind removes the sand, creating small passages for wildlife and nesting areas for piping plovers.
The sandy beach is characterized by a distinct wrack line where the remains of slipper snails (by the hundreds), scallops, mole crabs, and jingle shells can be found. Signs of offshore eelgrass beds are seen, and the dominant and invasive Codium green seaweed washes up in enormous quantities.
A rock jetty connects the bay to the open water and barnacles, rockweed, and periwinkles are living in patchy zones. The surfaces of some of the rocks are smooth while others are coated with a slick film of green algae and bacteria. Across the bay one can observe much of the sand eroded by the jetty and deposited on the other side. Terns and plovers have established residency there.
Continuing towards the bay side one encounters a small mud flat where many periwinkles gather and where several red seaweeds wash ashore. The bay is quieter with less wave and wind activity, and we often find the remains of blue, spider, and hermit crabs. The bay is surrounded by a ring of salt marsh with its distinct Spartina grasses and evidence of fiddler crab homes.
Finally the tour is complete with a quick visit to a salt pond connected to the system via a culvert under the entrance road. This pond can be quite stagnant with algae blooms occurring in the summer. Still there are many ribbed mussel beds in the banks and small groups of mallard ducks living here.
After this brief tour around this dynamic beach system, it’s easy to see how all these sections are interconnecting and ecologically important. While constantly changing, each mini habitat influences all the others around it supporting a continuous and fascinating ecosystem.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.