For the first time in more than 40 years, the annual Fourth of July sandcastle-building contest at Strands Beach in Dana Point was cancelled. Why? There wasn’t any sand.
After the fireworks, the sand art is the best thing about Dana Point's celebration of the Fourth. Some families are so hardcore about their creations, they send an advance team at dawn to stake out enough territory to build massive fortresses, often with some alarming sea creature rearing up from the center. One year, a whale was rigged so that water shot out of its blowhole. Mermaids and turtles and Uncle Sams appear every year, often brightened with tapwater tinted by food coloring. And when the judging is done, children get the nod to launch gleeful attacks, crushing everything in a couple of minutes.
But this summer, the beach is all boulders and rubble when it isn’t under water. There’s a small amount of sand to sit on at the far north end, but you better access it from Salt Creek Beach or you’ll be stuck there if you aren’t willing to climb out the squirrel-infested cliff.
Not only did the cancelation suck out all the daytime fun from the holiday, but it also sends a terrifying reminder that climate change has reached our shores. And if that’s not terrifying enough, the very next day, a lifeguard spotted a predator shark rise up only 300 feet off Salt Creek Point. Authorities closed the beach, and searched for the beast with boat and helicopter.
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Maybe it’s just a bad year for sand. It’s normal in winter for several cubic feet to be dragged out to sea, dramatically dropping the surface of the beach and creating sand bars offshore that surfers, bodyboarders and bodysurfers love. By May, all that sand is usually back on the beach. Last winter’s storms seemed to coincide with king tides, carving away more of the beach than people had ever seen and revealing never-before-seen rock formations that resembled flying saucers and Fred Flintstone car wheels.
When that sand came back late sping, everyone thought we’d be okay. But huge surf throughout June sucked away all the sand that had returned. And that’s where we are now. Not enough sand for castle-building or even sitting, with another swell expected to bring high surf by the end of the week.