The forces which punched a hole in Norton Point and opened Edgartown harbor to the Atlantic Ocean might present a headache for town officials, but from an ecological viewpoint, they have all the benefits of a big natural spring cleaning.
They have swept away all the muck and made the place way more livable for all manner of life forms, according to Greg Whitmore, the Islands' regional ecologist for The Trustees of Reservations, the conservation organization which manages Norton Point .
"This is the way it should be," Mr. Whitmore enthused this week, as he recounted the various species, from snails and crabs to endangered birds to sport fish and even commercial shellfish which he expects to benefit from the wide break in the barrier beach.
"The quality of the shellfish has been in decline in recent years and the reason is this excessive sediment and the shallowness of the bay," Mr. Whitmore said.
"So when you get a breach like this what it does is it basically sucks all the sediment out and scours the bottom and makes it this beautiful pristine shellfish habitat."
Indeed, during the first few days after the barrier beach was breached, the water going through the cut was so turbid visibility was limited to a couple of feet because so much mud was being sucked out.
"It is now a better habitat not just for commercially harvested species, but all the others. Snails and crabs will really benefit," Mr. Whitmore said, adding:
"It also serves as a nice hatchery for all the native fish species. It's kind of a domino effect; one species benefits and then all the species benefit."
As well as shellfish, he said, shore birds also had hit the lucky jackpot.
"It was good shore bird habitat before, now it's excellent," Mr. Whitmore said.
Appearances to the contrary, the loss of a significant area of dune grass has provided conditions ideally suited to nesting for protected piping plovers - sandy with a light cover of fine gravel.
The tiny shore birds are already taking advantage of it, Mr. Whitmore said. By Wednesday this week there was already at least one nest with an egg in it on the Edgartown side of the cut, and one or two nests on the Chappaquiddick side.
"The oyster catchers have moved in on both sides also and some terns are showing up. So all the birds we're concerned with are making use of this nice new habitat that's been created," he said.
In addition, Mr. Whitmore said the salt water fishing will be excellent near the breach.
"This is the first spot stripers [striped bass] have shown up this year," he said. "When I went out today, there were a good half dozen fishermen on either side." He continued:
"A breach like this works much like the Cape Pogue gut, where bait fish are just filtered through this small opening and concentrated so the larger predatory fish are drawn to it. It should be an incredible fishing spot, to rival the Cape Pogue gut, so long as the breach exists."
There seems little prospect of the cut closing any time soon. Indeed, it appears still to be growing.
During his Wednesday visit, Mr. Whitmore used a laser range finder to establish the exact width of the breach.
"The distance across is 350 meters. And I spoke to some fishermen there who got a depth in the middle of 16 feet [about five meters]. I calculated the amount of water flowing through at about 80 cubic meters per second, which is a lot of water," he said.
The flow will be more on big tides and less at other times, he said, but 80 cubic meters a second is a decent average.
"The breach is definitely not settled. It's extremely dynamic and is changing daily. It's depositing on one side and eroding on the other. We'll be really hammering into people that this is not the safest place to be," Mr. Whitmore said.
Nonetheless, lots of people want to be there, and the Trustees already have sold some $5,000 worth of beach permits.
In recognition of the risks, the Trustees also have acted quickly to try to avert accidents.
"There are already ATVs [all-terrain vehicles] set up for both sides of the breach and patrols that go on all day and rescue boards, all the appropriate signage," Mr. Whitmore said.
So far there have been no incidents but the Trustees and other relevant agencies continue to plan for what could be a difficult summer due to the changed conditions in Katama Bay and the harbor.
At meetings this week the Trustees, along with county officials and town departments including harbor, parks and recreation, police, fire and shellfish and the county sheriff's department worked on protocols for handling emergencies resulting from the vastly increased tidal flows.
While details remain a work in progress to be refined at further weekly meetings over the summer, town administrator Pamela Dolby said all responses would be channeled through the communications center at the airport.
"All police, fire emergency communication goes through them," she said. "They'll be dispatching people. The first call if there's trouble outside the breach will go to the Coast Guard and go down the line from there. If there's trouble inside the breach the first call will go to the harbor master and the calls will go down from there.
"It will take a lot of planning and money. And everybody's going to play a role."
The organization that will bear the greatest responsibility as first responders, however, will be the Trustees, who are under contract with the county to manage the beach.
"We are where the rubber meets the road," said regional supervisor Chris Kennedy.
His primary concern, he said, was that while rangers would be on duty at the breach from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, they did not have the training to handle a water rescue.
He said he was considering the prospect of getting a jet ski, but will nonetheless have to rely heavily on lifeguards at South Beach, who are under the supervision of the town parks and recreation department.
According to information supplied to this week's emergency planning meeting, it would take the lifeguards five to seven minutes to reach the scene from their station at South Beach. The Coast Guard could not get there in less than 25 minutes.
But Mrs. Dolby has rejected the possibility of stationing lifeguards at the breach.
In related news this week Robert Nadeau, the local region director for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), made it clear that storm relief money will be allocated strictly for the repair of damaged infrastructure and will not be forthcoming for any expenses local authorities incur in dealing with changed natural conditions.
Harbor master Charles Blair suggested some money might still be sought to deal with what he called real damage to some local docks and bulkheads.
But it appears that not much will come; certainly nothing like the $500,000 initially sought three weeks ago by county manager E. Winn Davis.
Selectman Margaret Serpa summed up the situation, saying: "So basically, we're on our own."