Summer Stench: Rotting Seaweed Befouls Nantucket’s Air

Jason Graziadei •

Something stinks at Jetties Beach.

The putrid smell has prompted dozens of calls to town departments from residents of Brant Point, Cliff Road, North Liberty Street - even as far away as Derrymore Road - who have complained about a foul odor over the past few weeks. Some called the Nantucket Fire Department believing it was propane gas. Others called the Sewer Department under the assumption it was raw sewage.

The actual culprit? Decomposing seaweed along the eastern shoreline of Jetties Beach.

“It’s bad,” said Nantucket Sewer Department Director David Gray. “When the sewer guys are saying it’s bad, it’s pretty bad.”

While the smell seemed to have dissipated by Thursday afternoon, the Sewer Department was still planning to rake as much of the seaweed off the beach today as possible to combat the odor.

After nearly two weeks of temperatures in the 80s and winds out of the northeast, the rotting black muck along the harborside of Jetties Beach has fouled the air in one of the island’s most expensive neighborhoods along Cliff Road. And it has kept firefighters and sewer department workers busy responding to homeowners complaining about the smell.

One resident sent a message to the Current calling it "a horrific smell (propane or sewage)...We called the police station and they said it was seaweed down at Jetties."

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The stench seemed to reach a peak on Wednesday, when the Nantucket Sewer Department had more than a dozen complaints in a single day.

“It’s been all day - e-mails and phone calls,” Gray said. “It’s actually been all summer, and certain days when the wind is blowing north, northeast. The Fire Department has been chasing it, getting calls about gas leaks. Growing up (on Nantucket), you’d get this every now and then. You’d say ‘oh, low tide.’ But I don’t think it was this bad.”

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As the complaints rolled in on Wednesday morning, members of the Sewer, Fire, Natural Resources and Harbormaster departments all convened at Jetties Beach to assess the situation and take samples.

By Wednesday evening, the town had received so many complaints that it felt compelled to issue a formal statement about the smell.

“Thank you to all concerned citizens!” the town stated. “This is just seaweed decomposing.”

The town’s Natural Resources Department got a little more specific, calling the black muck on the beach “anoxic sediment due to degraded organic matter.”

Call it what you will, it all still stinks.

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