Section of Assateague beach closed after military debris washes ashore

Part of the beach on Assateague Island in Maryland has been closed after military debris started washing up on the shore.

The closure is for part of the North Beach swimming area at the Assateague Island National Seashore.

The area, which is usually watched by a lifeguard, is closed until further notice. The area north and south of that portion of beach will remain open as will the Beach Hut.



There are lifeguards at the areas north and south of the closed section as well.

Here’s a map of the beach closure at Assateague Island in Maryland. (Courtesy National Park Service/Google Maps)

The National Park Service said that the decision was made to close this area of the beach after more than seven pieces of military munitions debris were discovered over the last two weeks.

“This stuff comes from Navy testing, which took place on the island from 1943 to 1947,” said Hugh Hawthorne, superintendent for the park service. “They used it as a bombing and rocketry range during that time.”

While fragments have occasionally washed ashore, in the last week, “we’ve gotten a whole bunch of them at once,” Hawthorne said. “On Saturday, we had four of these items. On Sunday, we had two more. So that became an issue where we decided for public safety we had to close the beach.”

The fragments — ranging in size from 6 inches to 2 feet — have been found by both staff and visitors.

Park management will meet this week with explosives experts to develop a plan for clearing the area.

When cleanup was done in the 1950s, that debris was buried in pits on the island. Now, the park service says that because of natural movement of the island and rising sea levels, some of the pits are now offshore. And a large Nor’easter in May could have disturbed the seafloor and uncovered one of the pits, which caused the pieces to wash onto the beach.

The pieces are mostly metal fragments, but some of the pieces could have explosive residue or propellent. The Ocean City Bomb Squad and an explosives team from Dover Air Force Base have been helping the park deal will the potential explosive nature of the debris.

NPS warns those on the beach that if any of the debris is found, do not touch it, and instead notify park staff immediately.

“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,” NPS said in a news release.

As for when the beach will reopen, Hawthorne said it’s a waiting game. If no additional fragments wash ashore, the beach could reopen on Wednesday, after a check from the Dover Air Force Base bomb squad.

WTOP’s Shayna Estulin contributed to this report.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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