Adapting to a Changing Coastline

In the summertime, Cisco is one of Nantucket’s most popular beaches – you can find people of all ages engaging in every form of beach recreation – surfing, swimming, fishing, beach games, and more. But year-round residents will know that the allure of Cisco Beach extends well beyond the summer. Even in the off-season you will find islanders sitting in the parking lot at the end of the day enjoying the sunset and ocean views from the warmth of their vehicles.  

Photos by Bill Hoenk

Over time, we’ve seen erosion shift and reshape the coastline at this Land Bank beach, a phenomenon which is common across the shores of Nantucket. Coastal erosion is a process where the dynamic factors of sea level rise, coastal flooding, and wave action can alter the seaward edge and move sand, rocks, and soils around (U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit).  Climate change is exacerbating this process: “more storms and higher seas from climate change create more winds, waves, and floods, leading to coastal erosion” (USGS).  

For decades, Nantucketers have been observing and noting the impacts of coastal erosion on Cisco Beach. As reported in the Inquirer & Mirror in 1969, “no Nantucket area is more susceptible to wind and wave damage than the Madaket-Cisco shoreline… Severe storms often take more severe toll here than elsewhere—as in the hurricanes of ’44, ’54, ’61, winter storms in ’45 and ’69” (I&M, Sept 25, 1969). The erosion at Cisco Beach has caused beach closures, several home demolitions, and a handful of parking lot relocations over the years.  

Inquirer & Mirror, June 11th, 2009

Earlier this year, winter storms caused major erosion of the bluff at Cisco Beach, resulting in the loss of the front row of parking and the need to permanently close that section of the lot. Given the increased frequency and intensity of storms that have occurred, the Land Bank had been preparing for this moment for several years.

When it became clear that we would inevitably lose this front row of parking one day, we began considering the three basic adaptation approaches: protect (resisting the sea), adapt (living with the sea), and relocate (moving away from the sea).  

Click to enlarge images | Town of Nantucket’s Coastal Resilience Plan

Due to the severity and history of erosion at this site, the Land Bank team determined in 2022 that the most effective adaptation approach was to relocate the parking lot. Since the closure of the front section of the existing lot, the Land Bank accelerated the timeline for the replacement parking lot to ensure continued beach access at this property. 

This new parking lot is designed with coastal resilience in mind. It was intentionally planned to be perpendicular to the coastline so that fewer parking spots will be lost at any one time as erosion continues to shift and shape the shoreline. We are currently working to prepare the site to ensure the project remains in compliance with Massachusetts Natural Heritage & Endangered Species regulations, and plan to have the new lot open to the public by the 4th of July! 

Here at the Land Bank, we are committed to maintaining public access to this beloved beach, and that is exactly what this project will do. Stay tuned for more updates! 

Inquirer & Mirror, June 20th, 1974

Inquirer & Mirror, July 2nd, 1992

Inquirer & Mirror, September 24th, 2020