A portion of the beach at Assateague Island National Seashore has been closed due to a recurring problem of unexploded military ordinance washing up.
The National Park Service (NPS) says there have been at least seven pieces of military munitions debris on the beach at the North Beach Swimming area over the last two weeks. They date from the 1940s, when the U.S. Navy used this part of Assateague as a test range for rockets and bombs. In the 1950s, munitions debris was buried in pits on the island. Some of those pits are now offshore, due to shifting sands and sea level rise.
NPS speculates, “It is likely that the large Nor’easter in May disturbed the nearshore seafloor and uncovered one of these pits. This has resulted in pieces of ordnance coming ashore.”
While the munitions are mostly just 80-year-old fragments of metal, they must be treated as if they’re dangerous because some may still contain residue of explosives or propellant. The Ocean City Bomb Squad, Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Dover Air Force Base Emergency Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team have been coming in to help dispose of the items. On July 26, the fire marshal’s office reports the munitions were intentionally exploded to render them safe.
Watch the short clip below to see how it was done:
Worcester County says in addition to what was found that day, additional ordnance was previously recovered by National Park Service Rangers. That ordnance was also rendered safe in an unoccupied area north of the Maryland State Park.
As a result of all this activity the area of the North Beach that typically has lifeguards posted is closed until further notice. The beach is open both north and south of the blocked-off area. The parking lot and Beach Hut remain open, and lifeguards have been posted south of their usual area.
In the meantime, National Seashore management is meeting this week with EOD experts to come up with a plan to mitigate future risks.
NPS reminds beachgoers that if they find an unidentified piece of metal on the beach, do not touch it and notify park staff. “Unfortunately, there have been several instances of visitors picking up rocket fragments and carrying them to either the lifeguards or, in one instance the visitor center. Please do not do this as it is potentially very dangerous.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano