On a calm day, ocean waves lap on the beach less than 20 feet from East Chop Drive in Oak Bluffs. The edge of the road is already breaking up.
Not far away, along the section near Crystal Lake, damage from the Dec. 9 ocean storm is still evident. To prevent waves from further undermining the road, Oak Bluffs highway department crews, with permission from the town conservation commission, have dumped loads of gravel on the narrow beach.
The same storm also washed sand over onto Sea View avenue, near Farm Pond, which the highway department later moved.
"That happens a couple of times a year," highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr. said.
East Chop Drive and Sea View avenue are just two recent examples of erosion changing the shape of the Vineyard's fragile shoreline. The ocean is eating into the Island at places such as South Beach and Wasque Point in Edgartown and at Squibnocket in Chilmark.
Sometimes erosion is subtle. At other times its effects on roads and parking lots require remediation.
The erosion taking place on the Vineyard is part of a bigger picture across Massachusetts.
Susan Snow-Cotter, director of the state's Coastal Zone Management, said her office oversees shorefront changes taking place across the state. The office regularly offers help to communities in which roads are getting washed out, homes are threatened and shifting sands cause navigational headaches for boat operators.
In the coming weeks, the director said, the office plans to establish a Coastal Hazards Commission. The commission will look at the effects of sea-level rise, and the impacts of storms, hurricanes and northeasters on area beaches.
On the Vineyard, erosion loomed especially large following the Dec. 9 storm.
In Edgartown, the storm carved huge areas out of South Beach. In the aftermath, police built saw horses at the end of the right fork parking lot to alert visitors to an immense drop. In the last three weeks the beach has rebuilt with soft sand, but there is clearly a change under way.
Laurence A. Mercier, a former Edgartown highway superintendent, said he remembers not too long ago when South Beach was a good deal wider and further from Atlantic Drive.
Though there are no homes threatened, the beach is moving inland. According to state records, South Beach could be eroding at 12 feet per year.
Mr. Mercier said he remembers the large stones that marked the southern edge of the asphalt parking lot at right fork, which kept cars from going off the pavement. In recent times, the stones were hidden by the inland moving dune. Last month, those same stones were exposed on the other side of the dune - the beach side - and soon will be a part of the open ocean.
Another shift is visible at Wasque, almost two miles to the east.
David Belcher is the superintendent of The Trustees of Reservation's Cape Pogue Wildlife Sanctuary. He started working in 1989 and since then has watched Wasque Point shrink in size. Wasque Point is the southeastern most corner of the Vineyard.
"We have lost from 600 to 800 feet since I started," he said.
Change also is evident near Swan Pond, which is part of Wasque. The pond formed in 1968 when there was a channel connecting Katama Bay to the ocean on the south side.
For the last 40-plus years, the small inshore pond has been a serene contrast to the raging waves that pound the shore nearby. Now the narrow barrier beach which separates the pond from the ocean is moving inland, putting a squeeze on the now narrow pond.
Norton Point, the narrow county-owned barrier beach that connects Chappaquiddick to the rest of the Island, also has changed significantly in Mr. Belcher's time.
"Everyone asks me whether there will be a breach of that beach," he said. "I don't foresee it opening, but what I see is the ocean washing over it on a regular basis, especially when we get a high tide and rough weather."
The coast also is shifting on the Island's northern shore. Among the affected areas are Oak Bluffs's Farm Pond, a small 39-acre coastal pond separated from Nantucket Sound by a barrier beach.
A culvert connected to the Sound makes it tidal. After the Dec. 9 storm, a crane was brought in to dredge a channel in Farm Pond at the culvert and the spoils were taken and put back near the seawall.
David Grunden, the town's shellfish constable, is trying to revitalize the shellfish in the pond and has been aggressive about seeing the state and town work toward keeping the ocean culvert open.
Mr. Grunden said the Massachusetts Highway Department, which oversees and maintains Beach Road, is paying close attention to the erosion issues in that section of road and along the Joseph Sylvia State Beach.
"They are more concerned about the Farm Pond area. This is the second time in two or three years that a strong enough storm was undermining part of the bicycle path," Mr. Grunden said.
The movement of sand is also having an impact farther to the east. Sand has again closed off the Harthaven harbor entrance, as it seems to do after every significant northeaster. The Little Bridge channel that connects Sengekontacket Pond to Nantucket Sound was also partially filled in by the big storm.
Concerns about erosion at Squibnocket Beach brought about a partnership this fall between the town of Chilmark and the Squibnocket Farm homeowners. Squibnocket Farm property owners depend on one road that crosses the Squibnocket Beach parking lot to connect their private neighborhood to the rest of the Island.
The road is vulnerable to the big storms. In 1991, the ocean storm known as The Perfect Storm cut across the road.
Chilmark has a long-term lease on the parking lot from the homeowners. Together they funded a significant restoration and rebuilding of the parking lot that will hopefully last a few years if not decades. A large stone wall was built and the parking lot was rebuilt.
"There is a tremendous amount of use during the summer and year round," said selectman Frank Fenner. "It is a terrific asset and we want to preserve it."
Dogfish Bar in Aquinnah appears to be one of the few places on the Vineyard where the beach is experiencing significant growth.
"Our waterfront piece has increased at least 40 feet out into the Sound since 1960," said town fire chief Walter Delaney.
"There are now some dunes on the west end of Ox Cart Road that are 20 feet high where they were water level at one time," Mr. Delaney said.
Also, the Vineyard is fortunate compared to other parts of the state. On Nantucket, homes in Madaket and Siasconset are threatened by erosion. The south shore of Nantucket is eroding at a rate of 18 to 20 feet per year, the highest rate in the state.
At Coastal Zone Management, Ms. Snow-Cotter said her staff promotes ways to solve erosion problems without building revetments and jetties. She said the new commission will come up with recommendations to strengthen beach management practices.
Her office also is looking carefully at the idea of mining sand from the ocean and from Nantucket Sound to build up beaches. That practice is already being implemented in other parts of the country such as Long Island, N.Y. "We think it is an interesting option," she said.