Deluge of Straw-Like Grass Blocks Water in Ocean City, Maryland

Grass doesn't directly threaten beachgoers, but can conceal harmful sea life

What to Know

  • Straw-like grass covered nearly three miles of Ocean City shorelines on Wednesday.
  • It isn't directly dangerous, but could conceal sea creatures and debris, so stay away.
  • It's since been raked into piles that will be removed on Monday.

Vacationers headed to Ocean City, Maryland, this weekend won't find a typical pristine beach. Instead, the shoreline will be covered in piles of straw-like grass.

Phragmites grass washed up on the beach in Ocean City on Wednesday afternoon, stretching across nearly three miles of sand and blocking beach-goers from diving into the water without walking through it.

Much of the grass is still there, but has since been raked into piles, Ocean City Engineer Terry McGean said.

“It really isn’t dangerous, but it is a nuisance,” Roman Jesien, science coordinator of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, said.

Jesien said the grass itself doesn’t directly threaten visitors, but it can produce an unpleasant smell if left for too long. Sea life and debris can also hide underneath, so town officials urged vacationers to avoid it.

The grass piled up on the shoreline from 94th St. to the Delaware line, McGean said. Crews have been raking it into clumps since Wednesday night, and will start removing or burying it this Monday.

“It’s rare that we see this stuff wash up at all,” McGean, who has worked for the city for 27 years, said. “It’s usually a piece here or a piece there. We’ve never seen anything like this.”

Phragmites grass is an invasive Middle Eastern plant that’s grown in coastal marshes for close to 90 years. It typically out-competes native plants and washes up on shore in small patches, Jesien said. He hasn’t yet pinpointed the source of this grass avalanche.

“It’s still kind of a real mystery as to where it all came from,” Jesien said.

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