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Dungeness Spit

"I have been hiking Dungeness Spit for more than eight years and have been impressed by the constant changes.. not only in wildlife but in the ever-shifting nature of the spit itself."

Karl Greubel walked over 288 miles on Dungeness Spit and observed 96 species of birds during a 2 year bird survey.
 

Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the United States. Extending 5 miles into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, Dungeness Spit has grown about 15 feet per year for the past 120 years.

 
Dungeness Spit, a large recurved spit.

Wind direction shifts with seasons and storms.

Complex winds, waves, and eroding bluffs build Dungeness Spit. Wind and waves bring sandy sediments from the west. Strong northeast winds during summer and winter storms also shape the spit. These winds reverse shore drift and have formed a hook called Graveyard Spit.

Shelter inside the Spit

Dungeness Spit shelters a large inner bay, tideflats, and an estuary. Wildlife can find food and protection here from wind, waves, and pounding surf. Shorebirds and waterfowl feed and nest along the beaches. Seals haul out of the water to rest in the sun.
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Clallam County.

Tideflats nourish clams, crabs, oysters and other shellfish. Shorebirds such as turnstones, phalaropes, and sandpipers search for food along the water's edge. Eelgrass beds provide food and shelter for young salmon and steelhead. Migrating Black Brant also feed on the eelgrass.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

In 1915, a 756 acre refuge was established as a resting and wintering place for Black Brant and other birds. Over 250 species of birds have been noted here over the years. About 91 species nest in the refuge area, including: Common Merganser, Cooper's Hawk, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Vaux's Swift, Rufous hummingbird, and Willow Flycatcher.

Impacts on the Spit

  • Fire damages habitat
    A recent fire on Dungeness Spit, possibly left burning by spit visitors, destroyed plants, animals, and habitat. The fire, first observed July 11, 1999, burned approximately 60 acres. The fire began 1/4-mile west of the lighthouse and burned until it reached the end of the spit. Areas used by shorebirds to rest and nest (drift logs and beach grass) were destroyed. The environmental damage may take some time to assess, refuge managers say.  
     
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    Burned debris, Dungeness Spit
    Burned beach debris, Dungeness Spit.
  • Decreasing seal population
    Seal numbers are decreasing at the refuge due to increased human activity on the spits.  
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    While Visiting Dungeness Spit

    • Remember, you are a visiting the homes of wild creatures. Be a courteous guest.
    • Please observe "closed area" signs. Parts of Dungeness Spit and Graveyard Spit may be closed to protect sensitive plants, birds, or animals.
    • Please note: no fires, camping, or pets are allowed on the refuge.
    • Consult a tide table before hiking the spit. Weather and waves can change quickly.

    Related Topics

    What is a spit? Changing shore forms along Puget Sound.
    Shore forms, A gallery of Sound shore forms.
    Shore drift, Materials on the move.

    Related Links

    Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge information, map, birds, and wildlife.

    Dungeness Spit: the Longest Natural Spit in America, Travel In Washington. Travel guide and description of Dungeness spit. 

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    Comments? E-mail: Shellyne Grisham